Fairbanks Police say low pay keeps department understaffed

FAIRBANKS, Alaska - The Fairbanks Police Department continues to struggle to attract officers, impacting public safety and crime investigation.
Some officials say the culprit is FPD's comparatively low wages, high insurance costs, and the lack of an updated contract.
Sarah Dubowski Investigates.
Chief Eric Jewkes; Fairbanks Police Department>>: "We dwindled down our traffic enforcement unit, we pulled our property crimes investigator, we have a property crimes detective, but we took our property crimes investigator and pulled them back to patrol because we need people to answer calls for emergency service and then we have four sergeant vacancies."
Ron Dupee; Sergeant - Fairbanks Police Department>>: "We run into people who are like, 'Hey I heard you are hiring!' We talk to them, we have officers that we have recently hired that are looking at other departments. When you have a one year officer that can look at Anchorage Police Department and make $30,000 dollars a year more just by moving to Anchorage and pay $900 dollars less a month in healthcare, it's going to be hard to retain guys like that."
Currently the Fairbanks Police Department is short seven officer positions. A recent string of murders has forced officials to spend less time on lower level crimes.
Chief Eric Jewkes; Fairbanks Police Department>>: "If you have your car broken into, it's not little to you, but in the scheme sometimes of our day, it is little and has to fall off the wayside."
Starting officer pay at F-P-D is around 53-thousand dollars per year and each officer must pay 9-hundred and 18 dollars a month for healthcare.
In 20-14 a new police contract would have lowered the officer's healthcare costs by 250 dollars per month and would reduce the police shift hours by 4 hours per week in lieu of a 10 percent salary increase.
The council at first approved the deal but later a changed vote rescinded the agreement. The Public Safety employees association fought the reversed decision and the battle has reached the Alaska Supreme Court, which has yet to make a ruling.
Ron Dupee; Sergeant - Fairbanks Police Department>>: "We at some point have to move forward. We are just stagnant in the water right now and it's not helping the officers that are here and it's not helping us be able to recruit and retain qualified officers and the longer that we stay the way we are, the farther that we get behind every other department in the state who is continually negotiating new contracts."
The Fairbanks City Council has attempted to bandage the situation by offering a bonus to new recruits and a one-time retention bonus to keep existing employees but many officers say this is not enough.
Ron Dupee; Sergeant - Fairbanks Police Department>>: "We have a great group of officer and great department and we are able to retain people for those reasons but as some point the pay and benefits are going to be a detriment."
In 2014 it was then Council Member Jim Matherly's changed vote against approving the contracts that caused the Public Safety Employees Association to sue the city. Since becoming mayor, Matherly has voted in favor of bonuses for officers and says he will continue to support the police force.
Jim Matherly; Mayor, City of Fairbanks>>: "When I got elected I made a promise to the police department to repair and to work closely with them and it all started with a new chief. Since that time, I've spent a lot of time with them and I know there is a better trust now. I know there are other things lingering, but for now the priority is to get them more officers, that will help them, it will help the city, it will help the visitors that come here and more importantly, the people we serve, the citizens that are here. That is a very heavy goal of mine going into 2018."
Sarah Dubowski reporting.