Agencies like the Nebraska State Patrol are working to increase the number of applicants to join law enforcement amid a nationwide drop in candidates. (Courtesy of the Nebraska State Patrol)
LINCOLN — The state troopers union and incoming Gov. Jim Pillen have agreed to a new labor contract granting 22% raises in the first year for the state’s top law enforcement agency.
The raises, announced Wednesday, come after the Nebraska State Patrol’s wages for its uniformed troopers had slipped compared to other law enforcement agencies, and as the Patrol struggles with a shortage of about 60 troopers.
“The highest calling of the government is to protect its citizens,” Pillen said in a press release. “This new contract is part of my commitment to ensure law enforcement has the necessary tools, funding, and manpower needed to protect our communities.”
A union representative called it a “historic deal” that raises trooper wages to among the top five paid in the state, and puts out the “welcome mat” for new recruits to help resolve the staff shortage.
“It was clear from the beginning that Governor Pillen agreed and has made it a priority to fix it,” said Dan Fiala, president of the State Law Enforcement Bargaining Council and the State Troopers Association of Nebraska.
Union officials had raised concerns this summer after wages paid by the Patrol had slipped behind at least 14 other law enforcement agencies in the state. It was also lower than pay for state corrections officers.
The competition for law enforcement officers is at its highest point that I’ve seen in 25 years.
– Gary Young, Lincoln attorney and chief negotiator for the union that represents state troopers
The new contract calls for beginning state troopers to be paid $30 an hour, or $62,400 a year, according to Gary Young, a Lincoln attorney who is the chief negotiator for the troopers’ union.
That, according to Young and Pillen, is the biggest raise for state troopers in two decades. Young said it was appropriate given the raises offered by other agencies.
“The competition for law enforcement officers is at its highest point that I’ve seen in 25 years,” he said.
‘Credit the new guy’
Young said that when he spoke to Pillen, he was assured by the incoming governor that he was not going to let the State Patrol fall behind in hiring new officers.
“Credit the new guy: he is following through on that,” Young said.
The raises go into effect on July 1. Raises of 5% will be provided in 2024, he said.
Law enforcement agencies nationwide have struggled to hire new officers. Factors include increased scrutiny of law enforcement following the in-custody death of George Floyd in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and the strong job market for other professions.
Hiring new Nebraska state troopers, Young said, is even more challenging than for other law enforcement agencies because the pension contribution is higher and there’s uncertainty about where in the state you will be assigned.
Members of the State Fire Marshal’s Office and conservation officers for Nebraska Game and Parks Commission will also see 5% raises each year of the contract, he said. Each will also receive step raises each year, Young added.
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