One of the initial concerns raised about the Oak Ridge Police Department last month was whether the turnover rate was high.
Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn said she had calculated a 15 percent annual turnover rate in the 3.5 years that Police Chief Jim Akagi has led the department. That compares to a reported turnover rate of only 2.9 percent for the Knoxville Police Department, Baughn said.
“I’m sure you agree that having a turnover rate five times that of our neighbor demands further scrutiny,” Baughn told City Manager Mark Watson in a January 25 email.
But Oak Ridge municipal officials said they don’t think the turnover rate is significantly out of line with what it has been previously. Watson said an average of 7.25 employees per year have left in the last four years due to resignations, retirements, or being asked to leave.
Last week, a University of Tennessee professor suggested that a 15 percent turnover rate, by itself, might not be a cause for concern.
“I don’t think if I was the Oak Ridge police chief that would set off too many alarms,” said Terry Leap, who is the head of the Department of Management in the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee. But Leap said he doesn’t know the specifics of the Oak Ridge Police Department or why officers are leaving.
Leap said turnover, a heavily researched topic in management, can vary drastically by industry, but a 10 percent turnover rate wouldn’t be too far from the norm.
He forwarded an article on police turnover in the February 2015 issue of “The Police Chief.” That story, headlined “Police Turnover,” said a recent study completed by the state of North Carolina found that police agencies across the state experienced an average turnover of 14 percent in patrol positions. The average tenure for a new officer there is 33 months, the story said.
Leap also forwarded a “Best Practices Guide for Recruitment, Retention, and Turnover of Law Enforcement Personnel” by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and its Smaller Police Department Technical Assistance Program. The guide, which is undated but appears to have been published around 2007 or 2008, includes a section on turnover, which was reported at the time to be increasing across the nation.
The guide said Florida officials reported in 1999 that 14 percent of state and county officers and 20 percent of municipal officers left within the first 18 months of employment. It reported other averages ranging from as low as 8.25 percent in cities in Vermont between 2001 and 2006, to 12.7 and 14.2 percent in North Carolina in 2003, to 35 percent in some officer positions in Alaska between 1983 and 1997.
It’s not clear if the guide has since been updated.
Leap said a workplace average that is higher than the industry average could be a possible cause for alarm.
On Sunday, Baughn said she would like more information about the data forwarded by Leap, and she would encourage a comparison of turnover rates with surrounding communities since those are the city’s direct competitors.
“I still consider our turnover rate too high,” she said. “We’ve lost 40 percent of our force in 3.5 years, and we just lost another ORPD employee this past week. His story, like those that have recently emerged, indicate that we have the ability to decrease that rate drastically, but only if we are willing to dig deep enough to understand the root cause(s).”
Turnover has been an issue for the Oak Ridge Police Department before. Among the past concerns has been officers leaving the city to go to work for former security contractor Wackenhut/WSI Oak Ridge at U.S. Department of Energy facilities.
But what’s different in the current debate are the questions that have been raised publicly about the chief’s leadership, whether the turnover rate is worse than before, and what factors might be contributing to the departure of officers now. Also, there seems to be at least some concern that the city is losing some good officers.
City officials said salary and benefits are among the reasons that employees cite for leaving. Family and working environment are also sometimes cited.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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