The St. Louis Board of Aldermen unanimously passed a bill on March 14 that would penalize police officers who leave the force early by requiring them to reimburse the department for academy training costs.
The bill now awaits Mayor Tishaura Jones’ signature.
The purpose of the bill is to incentivize officers to stay on the force for at least two years. The measure stipulates that if officers quit before two years or do not accept a job in the city, they will be forced to repay academy costs.
The bill’s summary states that both “trainees who don’t accept law enforcement positions with the City or who leave their City law enforcement positions in a short period of time” could be held responsible for paying back the cost of their six-month police academy training.
The cost for training adds up to nearly $37,000, and the average starting salary at the St. Louis Metro Police Department is $48,000.
The city has struggled to retain officers over the past year.
In 2021, 178 officers left the department, marking a 60% increase in officer departures compared to the usual yearly average loss of 75 to 90 officers.
Many in the St. Louis Metro P.D. have also complained that recruits are being trained using city funds before swiftly gaining employment at another department.
“This is a recognition that we put a lot of investment up front in these individuals to become police officers,” St. Louis Public Safety Director Dan Isom said of the bill.
According to Isom, police officers already sign an agreement to repay the cost of training if they leave within four years, but it has been unenforceable after the department shifted from state to city control.
This bill establishes a city ordinance to validate the agreement.
“In a way, it’s no different than a trainee or a new officer working off student loan debt, so to speak,” Alderman James Page, Ward 5, said of the measure.