Caribou police earn ‘above average’ wages compared with other towns
CARIBOU, Maine — Caribou City Council discussed police wages and morale during a Sept. 21 meeting, with the plan to hold similar discussions concerning the public works and fire and ambulance departments during future meetings.
Caribou City Manager Dennis Marker presented a graph illustrating the wages of Caribou patrol officers in comparison to five other departments, with the city generally trending above average.
The graph compared Caribou’s wages with Presque Isle, Houlton, Van Buren, Madawaska and Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office. It also included the average and a progression from starting pay to 25 years with each department.
In Caribou, the starting wage is a little under $18 an hour, above Madawaska and Van Buren’s starting salaries, but below Presque Isle, the County Sheriff’s Office, Houlton and the general average. Around the one year point, the wages in Caribou increase to around $20 an hour, and by the five-year point they are at roughly $22 an hour, above the average and all other departments except for Houlton, which pays closer to $23 an hour by this point.
At 20 years, Caribou’s police wages level out at around $24 an hour, above the average, but slightly below Van Buren. At 25 years, Presque Isle’s wages go slightly above Caribou’s at just under $25 an hour with Van Buren’s wages jumping up to roughly $26 an hour.
Marker said Caribou’s average pay increase over the first year is based on the officers obtaining the training they need from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy within the first year of employment.
Caribou Mayor Mark Goughan said the city is preparing for union negotiations, which is why the topic was brought up.
“It looks like we could tinker with it a little more, but we’re making progress compared to when you and I showed up on the council,” Goughan said to Marker. “We’re paying above average.”
Goughan said the graph was given to the council during a Sept. 8 executive session, but that he felt the data should be shown and discussed in open session.
Since Sept. 8, the police department has had one resignation and another take a medical leave.
Caribou Police Chief Michael Gahagan said the department is still down one officer as it now has a School Resource Officer at the local school.
Goughan asked Marker if the city is keeping up with the cost of living adjustment standards, and said that the city would need to check the data over the last 10 years to confirm this. The mayor said he’s been hearing about low morale at the police department, and asked Marker and Chief Gahagan if they knew anything about it.
“We’re paying above average and I believe we’re keeping up with the 10-year average for COLA,” he said. “So Dennis my question is where is the low morale in this department?”
Gahagan said he believes some of the morale issue comes from the hit law enforcement is taking on the national level.
The chief added that the state of the police department itself, which is not large enough to accommodate all of the department’s needs, has also affected morale.
The Caribou Police Department does not have its own building, and is instead located on the first floor of the Caribou Municipal Building. And while it is the only facility north of Houlton equipped to hold prisoners, the overall space is not large enough to contain cells in addition to all of the other equipment police are required to use.
Because of this lack of space, computers are stored in the kitchen, and much of the evidence that officers need to hold onto has to be stored at an outside location. Winter also takes its toll on the building, with their three-bay garage being heated at temperatures below 60 degrees and the public bathroom door needing to stay open so the pipes don’t freeze.
The chief said that Caribou is not unique when it comes to morale issues among officers, and that officers around the state are affected by efforts to defund the police.
Goughan said he doesn’t understand where the low morale is coming from, adding that someone accused the council during its last meeting of trying to defund the department.
The police chief said they are not able to control rumors, Facebook or social media.
“Candidates are running for office,” said Goughan, who along with Councilor Hugh Kirkpatrick is an incumbent in the upcoming election, “and they want to run because they want to stop the losing of essential services. Are we in jeopardy of losing our police department right now?”
“I hope not,” Chief Gahagan said. “We’ve been fortunate. We did have an officer resign that we just hired but I got word that we’re hiring another officer that’s trained and don’t have to send to the academy. We are down one officer to backfill for the SRO.”
The mayor asked if the officer who resigned left because of low morale, and the chief said that his resignation was primarily because Caribou was too rural of an area for the officer. Goughan asked Marker to find out where the low morale issue is coming from within the department.
“And you can start with some of the employees that are saying it,” he said.
For the next meeting, Goughan requested a similar study for the Public Works Department, adding that he and the council are going to find out where the low morale is coming from. He said he has not heard of any low morale among city employees who work at the library, the rec department, or those who maintain the cemeteries.