A small Arkansas police department is facing an existential crisis after the chief and several officers decided to quit following a salary dispute.
According to city officials, the town’s city council rejected a pay raise for the police chief, leading him and three other officers to resign.
The Parkin Police Department, which is currently composed of a seven-member staff, is at risk of losing at least four people over the dispute, which would leave the department on the brink of collapse.
According to Parkin Mayor Diane Patterson, Chief Jeremy McNeil already verbally resigned and three other officers threatened to quit when the city council denied granting the chief a $12,000 pay raise.
“Since the chief resigned, all of our policemen got up and kind of walked out and said, ‘If he’s gone, we’re gone, too,’” Patterson told WREG. “His salary is only $26,000. We have no health benefits, no retirement, no anything for police officers.”
Parkin, a small town with a population of just 700 residents, is located about 120 miles east of Little Rock.
Patterson, who supported the chief’s calls for a raise, said the city council voted 4–2 to block the decision to raise the chief’s pay by $12,000.
The mayor said the outcome led to Chief McNeil’s verbal resignation.
Officers at the department reportedly earn between $11 to $12 an hour. Arkansas’ minimum wage, as a reference, is $11 per hour.
“Something is going to have to be done for the pay,” Patterson told WREG. “Because who is going to put on a police uniform for 11 dollars an hour when McDonald’s and Walmart and everybody pays more than that?”
In Arkansas, Walmart employees are paid an average of $16.01, roughly $5 more than the state’s minimum wage.
McNeil would have received $38,000 if the pay raise was approved.
According to another report, Chief McNeil was hired three months ago with the understanding he would get a raise in March. However, after the city’s denial, the chief, along with several other officers, decided to quit.
The pay issue could also affect the recruitment of new talent to the department.
“No police chief would work for $26,000 a year anywhere and with no benefits. We have no health insurance, we didn’t have no retirement, nothing,” Patterson added.
One council member told WREG the pay boost was denied because the city does not have the available funds to cover the costs.
“The city just doesn’t have the money at this time. It’s just such greater needs here that need to be done,” council member Sherry Gillon said. “You can’t say never — we can just say ‘Not right now.’”
In addition, Patterson said losing officers may affect normal business operations in the town, which could reduce tax revenue.
Some business owners allegedly told the mayor they might close earlier than usual to avoid becoming victims of crime.
Salah Hayeieber, manager of the Parkin Express Gas on Highway 64, said she plans to do just that.
“Sometimes, we didn’t feel safe, I care about my employees — I don’t want anybody to get hurt,” manager Salah Hayeieber said.
The Cross County Sheriff’s Office said they will pitch in if the town’s officers officially quit, but residents are still worried.
Residents said they would still feel uneasy about not having a police force of their own.
“It’s real important because, you know, we have to wait for the county to get here if a call goes out or anything. It’s a matter of life or death,” Parkin firefighter Terry Washington said.
In the meantime, while the city works to recruit new talent, residents will have no choice but to rely on the sheriff’s office for help.