Former Jonesboro cop says pay is the issue

Former Jonesboro Police Officer Speaks On Police Pay
(Source: TJ Burns)
(Source: TJ Burns)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - The Jonesboro Police Department has 15 vacant positions to fill.

The three most recent officers to leave all had years of experience.

Now, one former officer speaks to the ongoing pay issues and why he had to call it quits.

For seven years, TJ Burns donned a uniform for the Jonesboro Police Department.

"It's something I can remember ever since I was a little kid when I first started thinking about what I wanted to do, cop. That's all it was," Burns said. "It was all I could think about."

Burns, a Jonesboro native, never planned on leaving the Jonesboro Police Department after he was hired on in 2009.

"When I started, I can remember my application asked 'What are your plans?' I planned to retire with the City of Jonesboro," Burns said.

Burns said a few years into the job, he started to notice issues with pay. It happened while he was training a rookie just a few months into his career.

"He was sitting in my car and we got our pay stubs on Friday and he was asking me questions about it and I was like my goodness. He's making the same exact money I am."

Burns said in his time at the department, it never changed. He said he got to the point that he felt he wasn't valuable at all.

"It's hard to be making the same as a guy that just walked in yesterday and you've been there seven years," Burns said. "Me, even at seven years, I was making the same as a 15-year guy. It's not fair to them either. They've got double my experience as an officer and that's extremely valuable and I don't think it was ever really appreciated at that point."

Despite officers trying to address the issue by conducting their own salary surveys and going to city council meetings to show those numbers, things weren't changing.

"You know I obviously didn't get into law enforcement to become rich. It's nothing I ever expected," Burns said. "I accepted that a long time ago that it wasn't a job you're going to make a lot of money in. I'd just like to get a point where you're a little better off each year."

By the time the city approved a new salary plan in February 2016, Burns had called it quits.

He now protects and serves 20 minutes down the road in Bay for a better salary and a better outlook.

"I still walk up to the cars and say 'I'm Officer Burns with Jo...Bay Police Department,'" Burns said.

Though he won't retire as a Jonesboro police officer, he hopes things change soon so more of his friends and former coworkers can, especially since fewer are willing to fill the void left by those, like Burns, who move on.

"Which is even more reason why we need make sure when we get them there that we're doing everything we can in any department to make sure you retain your officers because experience is invaluable in law enforcement. Period," Burns said.

Burns said for him, the base salary at JPD wasn't the big issue, it was that veteran officers weren't adequately compensated for their experience.

Though it's changed some since the new salary plan took effect, many feel it still isn't enough.

As for the officers who recently protested pay by parking at City Hall, an internal affairs investigation into the matter is still underway at JPD.

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