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Tensions run high as Jackson police, firefighters continue to wait for premium pay promised by council months ago

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 10:20 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Tensions ran high at the Jackson City Council’s Public Safety Ad Hoc Committee meeting Thursday, as public safety personnel continue waiting for the premium pay they were promised months ago.

During the budgeting process, the City Council approved setting aside nearly six million dollars in American Rescue Plan Act funds to boost pay for police and firefighters.

Four months later, that money has yet to be sent out.

Capt. RaSean Thomas, who also serves as president of the Local 87 Union for Jackson Fire Department, said the delay is causing patience to run thin within the ranks of the JFD.

“I’ve been on this department for over 20 years, and we have not received any kind of substantial pay increase in over 20 years,” Thomas said.

Ward 6 Councilman and Finance Committee Chair Aaron Banks claims that he requested a breakdown from JPD and JFD of how many personnel should receive premium pay. Banks said he got the information from JPD Chief James Davis but never received it from JFD Chief Willie Owens.

Owens said he wasn’t aware he was supposed to send in what Banks had requested.

“I have six pages of meetings you called (referring to Banks), and at the header of these meetings it says, ‘Law Enforcement Ad Hoc Committee Meetings,’” Owens said. “It does not say fire. So when you all started having these meetings with the police department, you said, ‘Chief Owens wasn’t coming to these meetings.’ I didn’t know anything about the meetings.”

Banks said the reason that the header of the meetings didn’t include “fire” is because he started the Law Enforcement Ad Hoc in response to the city’s crime crisis. The intent was to recruit and retain more police officers.

The Council later decided to include JFD after complaints from personnel.

“The reason why we started talking about pay raises is because of crime. It was for police-only,” Banks said. “We started hearing from fire members, and they said, ‘How are you going to do this for JPD and not do this for us?’”

Banks further insisted that he requested the aforementioned information from Owens and never received it, forcing those responsible for figuring out how the money would be allocated to “guesstimate” the number of captains and lieutenants that would get the stipend.

Much of the problem stems from the complexity of the fire department’s structure, especially compared to the city’s police department.

As many firefighters explained, giving premium pay to corporals and sergeants on the police side is not equivalent to giving it to lieutenants and captains on the fire side.

It’s something Thomas said is causing tension among firefighters.

“There’s a slight bit of division because some can possibly be getting [premium pay] and others are not,” he said.

That’s why Assistant Chief Patrick Armon suggested divvying-up the available funds evenly and distributing it to everyone within the department, rather than just captains and lieutenants.

“That would fix the entirety of this situation,” Armon said.

At the end of the day, Thomas said firefighters have the mindset that they’ll take what they can get and work out the differences later.

“We’re hoping that the can is not continuously kicked down the road, and we’re hoping to get a definite decision and a time and date on when we can expect to receive this funding,” he said.

Councilman Banks said everything with the police department is ready to go, but as for the fire department, the city is going to crunch some numbers and bring it to the city council.

Banks expects to have the information needed to amend the item at next weeks council meeting.

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