Trevin Fortner always dreamed of becoming a police officer and although many folks tried to talk him out of it, he never got it out of his head. In 2019, he traded in his welding helmet for a pair of handcuffs and joined a Mobile Police Department academy class.
The job on the force wasn’t what he thought it would be. Couple that with the small paychecks and he soon made a change.
“I knew I had to do something,” he said. “It wasn’t what I was expecting.”
In 2020, Fortner left the force and now owns his own welding company. Like many before him, Fortner resigned from MPD. His story is nothing new.
MPD has had a total of 252 resignations, 84 retirements and 40 terminations within its ranks of sworn officers in the recent past.
The information on those officers no longer with the force comes from a spreadsheet known as the “goners list” and dates back at least a decade. The list was leaked to Lagniappe amid concerns over officer turnover.
While the list dates back to 2011, all but six of the 252 resignations listed occurred after 2016. In June of that year, MPD officer Harold Hurst shot and killed a Black 19-year-old in a Midtown Mobile driveway during a traffic stop. While neither a Mobile grand jury nor the Justice Department sought charges against Hurst, the case led to extra scrutiny of the police department from the public as well as members of the Mobile City Council and a mandate for patrol officers to wear body cameras during shifts. The case also began a series of council appointments to a board asked to be a liaison between the public and the police. While the members of the Police Citizens Community Relations Advisory Council are eager to participate, meetings are sparsely attended in most cases.
Moore’s family recently settled a lawsuit against Hurst for around $2.5 million.
Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran believes the extra scrutiny put on policing nationwide is leading to more and more officers quitting their jobs. In a phone interview with Lagniappe, Cochran specifically mentioned the Moore case as a possible catalyst for many departures from MPD. During that point in time, Cochran said, MPD officers felt “second guessed” by members of the public and council. Cochran said Hurst didn’t do anything wrong in the case.
“The anti-law enforcement attitude is much louder in the city,” he said. “The questioning of officers is greater in the city.”
Mobile Director of Public Safety Lawrence Battiste agrees with Cochran that the top issue contributing to the resignations is the additional scrutiny on officers over recent highly publicized incidents involving residents nationwide.
“It’s the idea that officers will be accused of misconduct and tried as a matter of public opinion regardless of what the facts show,” Battiste said.
While a vast majority of the resignations being examined now appear to have occurred after 2016, it makes sense that the additional scrutiny on officers and agencies could be having an impact. However, of the 252 resignations, at least 106 officers left MPD for other agencies, including the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office, the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshall’s office and other small local agencies. The total number of officers who left for other departments is unknown because the so-called “goners list” did not have landing spots for every officer listed.
This suggests that in addition to the stress of a larger city police force, pay may also be having an impact on officers who make the decision to depart MPD.
Under Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration, the city has raised pay for police officers, but the lower-than-average pay compared to other departments continues to be a problem.
“We are certainly not completely satisfied with where officer pay is at this moment, but we are proud of the improvements we’ve been able to make since 2013,” Stimpson said in a statement. “After years with no raises at all, our Mobile Police Department was at a significant disadvantage with officer pay among the lowest in the nation. However, over the last eight years, our administration has been able to give five 2.5-percent costs of living adjustments to all employees as well as an additional $5,000 salary adjustment specifically for first responders.”
Stimpson is adding another raise for all city employees in the proposed 2022 fiscal year budget. If approved, he said in the statement, officers’ pay would’ve increased from $28,000 per year in 2014 to $40,000 in 2022.
“The average officer on the force would have received a 30 to 50 percent increase in salary during that same time,” he said. “Moving forward, we remain committed to helping MPD compete with law enforcement agencies in our area and around the state.”
These salary increases from the city have helped to make pay less of an issue when it comes to hiring MPD officers, Cochran said. Starting MCSO deputies make just over $42,000 per year.
In the statement, Stimpson said the number of officers lost to attrition and the number of officers graduating varies from year to year, but to help deal with the churn of officers, the city would increase the number of academy classes from two per year to three annually.
Former MPD officer Rachel Bohannon, who resigned in 2021 for a job at the Citronelle Police Department, said she left the job in the Port City due to scheduling. As a single mother, Bohannon said she could not work a day shift that started at 6 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m. After trying to accommodate her schedule for a number of months, Bohannon said she was told she’d have to leave patrol, or switch departments.
When she became eligible to leave MPD, Bohannon took a job as a patrol officer and detective with CPD, working 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
As for the increased scrutiny on policing, Bohannon said that wasn’t a big concern for her because as a 2018 academy graduate, she already knew what to expect.
“It did not affect my opinion,” she said. “It was part of what you signed up for.”
Both Cochran and Battiste agreed that while pay isn’t as big an issue as it has been, a decreased number of calls and avoiding the stressors of city policing make MCSO positions more attractive.
“The call volume with the sheriff’s office is much less than it is with MPD,” he said. “The pay difference is 2.5 percent to 5 percent. So, you have a 50-percent reduction in work for the same amount of pay.”
With Mobile as the training ground for so many officers, many local departments, including the sheriff’s office, look to backfill with former MPD officers, Battiste said. For example, Semmes just hired a new police chief from the sheriff’s department, he said. The new chief might decide to hire his new department from MCSO and if he does, MCSO leadership will then recruit from MPD.
“If they come from the sheriff’s office then they might as well come from MPD,” Battiste said.
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