Aiken City Council will hold a work session tonight to discuss concerns that the Aiken Department of Public Safety's turnover rate is too high. The department's management and its training program also will be examined.
The session will begin at 6 p.m. on the second floor of the Municipal Building, which is located at 214 Park Ave.
“If you look at the minutes of several past City Council meetings, you can see that I have raised the issue of public safety turnover before,” said Council member Dick Dewar, who requested the work session. “It's something I feel strongly that we should address. I'm not convinced that we are making a big enough effort to keep the people that we have.”
Based on figures provided by the City of Aiken to City Council, Public Safety's turnover rate in 2012 and 2013 combined was 31.5 percent among “sworn” employees. Ten Public Safety employees retired, and 15 left voluntarily. Two were terminated, and one died.
The 15 who left voluntarily included eight who took jobs with other agencies involved with law enforcement, criminal prosecution and security.
“The city manager (Richard Pearce) has told us in previous meetings that in the public sector 10 percent (turnover) is a good number,” Dewar said. “My experience is in the private sector, and there, 10 percent is very high. Sometimes, it's hard to say what's acceptable and what's not because it depends on the nature of the job and all kinds of external factors.”
Public Safety's training program lasts for 50 weeks, and Dewar is worried that its length could make it difficult to keep enough qualified officers on duty when there is a turnover rate of 31.5 percent.
“It's a long program, and that increases the effect of turnover,” Dewar said.
The City of Aiken's figures show that 51 percent of Public Safety's officers have 10 or more years of experience. However, Dewar said that, based on his calculations, 31 percent have two years of experience or less with the City of Aiken.
Dewar believes that a variety of factors are involved in Public Safety's 31.5 percent turnover rate. Pay that is too low could be an issue, he said. The transition following Pete Frommer's retirement as Public Safety director in January 2012 also probably had an effect.
“When something like that happens, you can expect some turnover as a result,” Dewar said.
Dewar would like to start a program to get feedback from Public Safety employees who leave.
“We should give them an opportunity to pass on comments about their job and their views on the City of Aiken and Public Safety,” he said. “If that's done now, I'm not aware of it.”
According Lt. Jake Mahoney of the Department of Public Safety, Public Safety Director Charles Barranco and members of the Public Safety command staff will provide a Public Safety update to City Council tonight. They also will talk about entering the Safe Communities Initiative in the Municipal Association of South Carolina's Achievement Awards competition. “I'm sure they will be willing to answer any questions that City Council has,” Mahoney said.
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.