New Detroit police officers may soon have another reason to stick with the department after graduating from the city’s training academy: the threat of having to pick up the $35,000 tab.
The concept to stem “police poaching” is laid out in a pair of proposals being considered by the state Legislature. Detroit is one of the only agencies in Michigan that provides recruits with paid law enforcement training.
Detroit’s Police Department has long wrestled with officers being lured to other agencies with more competitive pay. Since 2020, the city has hired over 700 new officers, but, over that same span, 839 others have left. Of the recruits who left, 312 are now working for other agencies, according to the department. Assistant Detroit Police Chief David LeValley said the cost of training and wages for those 312 officers was nearly $11 million.
LeValley spoke last week during a House Judiciary Committee in favor of the legislation. If passed, HB 4176 and SB 32 would allow the City of Detroit and other agencies to enter into agreements with incoming recruits to recoup training costs if the officers leave to work for a different law enforcement agency within three to four years of graduating from the academy.
“We’re trying to focus on people who come to Detroit, use us for the training experience and leave shortly thereafter,” said LeValley, “leaving the citizens of Detroit with the bill to pay for all that training that a different community is benefiting from.”
LeValley told the House committee that it costs Detroit approximately $35,000 to put a new recruit through the city’s police academy. According to an analysis for SB 32, tuition costs for law enforcement training typically range from $6,000-$10,000 in the state of Michigan.
The bills, sponsored by state Sen. Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit, and state Rep. Tyrone Carter, D-Detroit, respectively, would amend a 1978 law (1978 PA 390) that prohibits an employer from receiving a fee, gift or gratuity as a condition for employment, according to an analysis of the proposed legislation by the House Fiscal Agency.
Under SB 32, officers leaving the department for another agency within one year of graduation would be required to reimburse the city for up to 100% of the training costs, but not more than their salary during the first year. The amount decreases by 25% each year thereafter until the officer reaches four years of service. HB 4176 sets the maximum time frame for departure after graduation at three years and the reimbursement amount decreases by 33% each year. The legislation would not apply to officers who leave the department to pursue careers outside of law enforcement.
Santana noted during last week’s committee hearing that the senate bill has been in the works for five years. Two versions of the bill passed through the House Judiciary Committee during the previous legislative session but were never approved, according to Santana, and those versions included language that required reimbursement within three and five years, she said.
Santana said SB 32 serves as a compromise, setting the time frame in which departing officers would be required to reimburse an agency to four years after they complete their initial training.
Carter said officers become more marketable after training. Some agencies, he said, have advised prospective recruits to go through Detroit’s police academy before applying to other departments and have even attended Detroit police graduation ceremonies.
“I’ve been to some DPD graduations and I’ve literally watched other cities there and they’re actively recruiting,” Carter told BridgeDetroit.
Senate Bill 32 was approved by the Senate and now awaits approval from the House. If and when the bill is approved by the House, the legislation would eventually head to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk for her signature. According to a February bill analysis, the law would go into effect 90 days after it’s signed by the governor.
“As a former prosecutor, Governor Whitmer is committed to delivering the resources that law enforcement needs to stay focused on protecting public safety,” said Robert Leddy, a spokesman for Whitmer, noting the governor has helped deliver $1 billion in state funding support for local law enforcement officers, firefighters and public safety initiatives since taking office.
“We will continue to work with the legislature on additional solutions to public safety because Michiganders deserve to feel safe as they go to work, drop their kids off at school, or run errands in their neighborhoods,” Leddy said.
Carter said that he hopes the City of Detroit will be able to see a return on its investment once the bills are approved, calling the years of watching other agencies poach new officers “really disrespectful,” while the bills were discussed last week before the judiciary committee.
In another attempt to curb officer departures, Detroit City Council last November approved a new five-year contract with the Detroit Police Officers Association (DPOA) that called for a $10,000 increase in starting pay for new officers. At that time, Mayor Mike Duggan expected that the department’s 300 police officer vacancies would be filled over the next year and a half.
The contract called for a shift in starting salary from $43,000 to $53,000 for officers coming out of the academy. Starting pay for most Michigan police departments is upwards of $70,000, according to the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.
Under DPOA’s new contract and if the proposed legislation is approved, officers who remain with the department for four years will earn about $74,000. At that point, officers would not be required to reimburse the city for their training, according to the proposal.
The new union contract also includes a provision that allows the department to recoup training costs for officers who leave the department shortly after graduation, according to the city. Prior to the council’s approval last fall, Police Chief James White expressed support for the change, saying: “We feel that it is only right that if you take our training and go somewhere else that you should pay us back so we can use those dollars to provide this benefit to another members of our community that wants to join our department.”
Detroit Police Lt. Mark Young, who serves as president of the Detroit Police Lieutenants and Sergeants Association (DPLSA), also has expressed support for that provision in the latest contracts. He said last fall that close to 2,000 officers had separated from the department since 2014 and told the council “that’s unacceptable” and that “we were the laughing stock of the law enforcement community.”
Reached by BridgeDetroit, DPLSA declined to comment Monday on the proposed legislation. Representatives for DPOA did not respond to requests for comment.
Last month, during the city council’s budget hearing for the police department, White said DPD has seen improvements in hiring and attrition since the announcement of the new contract with the DPOA. Of 156 recently hired officers, White said, at least 20 returned to the department after leaving to work for other communities, and 16 more officers were looking to return to the department.
Detroit Police Commissioner Ricardo Moore, who represents District 7, told BridgeDetroit that he thinks the bills “will be good, but it won’t be enough.”
Moore said that he advocated for similar changes to state law in 2015, according to an email he shared with BridgeDetroit. In Moore’s email to former police chief James Craig and former first assistant chief Lashinda Stair, he suggested seeking an amendment to state law to require that new officers remain with the department for a minimum of two years after they receive paid academy training. Moore said the department’s leadership didn’t entertain the idea at the time.
Hassan Beydoun, senior advisor and counsel to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, said in an email to BridgeDetroit that the administration believes the legislation would solve recruitment problems in Detroit.
Beydoun noted that “unlike almost every other city, Detroit covers this cost for new recruits and also pays them wages while in training.
“Unfortunately, other communities have unfairly exploited this arrangement by poaching fresh recruits immediately upon their graduation from the academy,” he added. “The result (of the legislation) would not only be a fairer system in which the costs of police training are borne by the communities that benefit off that training, but also a more dedicated police force.”
Carter told BridgeDetroit that Michigan State Police officers aren’t leaving like Detroit officers are, which he believes is largely due to the higher salary offered to state officers and the ability of those officers to relocate to different areas of the state. According to the state’s website, the starting salary for state police is $50,000, not including overtime and shift premium. After six years of service, their salary jumps to $70,000.
According to LeValley and the lawmakers, DPD and MSP are the only agencies in the state that provide paid law enforcement training.
“I’m excited to move this bill along and provide relief for the City of Detroit and also give other law enforcement agencies an opportunity to entice recruits and their organizations by offering to pay for their initial training,” she said during the hearing.
State Rep. Kelly Breen, D-Novi, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said last week that she hopes to have the bills moved out of committee during its next meeting. According to the House committee clerk’s office, the Judiciary Committee’s next meeting has not been scheduled but it typically meets every week.