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to apply for positions within the department.
At its regular monthly meeting on April 11, the Council voted to approve the increase in officer pay to supplement current officers for their hard work and to attract applicants for current openings in the Vidalia Police Department.
According to VPD Chief James Jermon, the Department is currently suffering, like many other agencies, from a staffing shortage, which has left his officers covering multiple shifts and duties. “Our officers are tired,” he commented. “Sometimes, you can just look in their eyes and see their exhaustion. They are truly giving everything they have to the City of Vidalia, and they deserve to be recognized for it.”
The new raise will increase the pay in the following positions: pay for Non-Certified Officers (current cadets) and Certified Police Officer will go from $15.15 to $16.93 per hour; pay for Corporal (2,184 accrued hours) will go from $16.93 to $17.72 per hour; and pay for Investigator (2,080 accrued hours) will go from $17.78 to $18.61 per hour. This increase is a one-step shift of pay grades, which will go into effect within the next pay period this month.
New hires will sign three-year contracts that are effective upon the date of hire, in exchange for a $3,000 sign-on bonus; this bonus is also available to existing employees who sign a retention contract for three years. Newlyhired cadets do not receive this bonus until after their graduation from the police academy; yet, if these new cadets break the contract after graduating from this training, they will be required to pay back the $3,000 bonus, as well as the $10,000 tuition fee from the academy.
Other positions will also pay back the bonus if the contract is broken, and those who return to the department within six months of their resignation from the VPD, must wait six months to receive this bonus.
City of Vidalia employees also have the opportunity to receive $1,000 bonuses for recruiting officers to the VPD. This bonus will be received once the recruit has been hired, worked for six months with the department, and signed a threeyear contract.
This change in pay comes in an attempt to help remedy the staff shortage struggle that the VPD is currently facing – a problem that Chief Jermon believes is contributing to the recent rise in crime throughout the area. “It’s the perfect storm,” Jermon emphasized. “We have a shortage of officers, drugs are very prevalent on the streets right now, and we are facing the problems the rest of the nation is facing. It’s not only COVID that has brought this new era in, but just a combination of several issues that work together.” According to Jermon, the lack of a full police staff has greatly impacted crime in the area as individuals have learned that law enforcement is currently limited. “We haven’t publicized our shortage of officers, but the community notices when there aren’t as many boots on the ground,” he explained. “Word spreads, and the potential for crime grows, because when you see officers consistently in the area, you are going to think twice before you commit a crime.” When asked why the Police Department continues to have a shortage of officers, Jermon had two theories: the responsibility of the job and the pay. “A lot of people do not want to go into this field because of the gravity of the duties of officers,” Jermon remarked. “So many split-second decisions have to be made, and these decisions can affect not only the rest of your life, but others’ lives as well. Our officers take a lot home with them every day mentally, and it is not a job for everyone.” He continued, “Also, officers today expect to come in and make a lot of money from the start because of the line of work. Many people do not want to be the people walking into your back yard when you are afraid to walk there for less money than they could make working in a factory or safer environment.”
Jermon recounted his experience with pay within police departments and shared that he had to continue to persevere through working multiple jobs until reaching the ability to support his family solely through his work in the police force. “I hope that these pay raises will help encourage those who truly have a passion for serving others to join our department,” he said. “That is one thing I can assure about the men and women who currently work in our department: they love what they do and they love the City of Vidalia – that’s why they are here.”
Nevertheless, Jermon promised that although the Department is shortstaffed, VPD will not sacrifice quality of officers to hire quantities of police. “We will not stray from our 14-step hiring practice just continued from page
because we are in need of more officers – we do need more boots on the ground, but we need qualified individuals in these positions,” he reassured. “Our citizens deserve the best possible officers to serve them, and that is what we are striving to provide.”
This 14-step hiring process includes psychological analyses, simulation tests, mental analyses, and several other strategies of evaluating each applicant as an individual and law enforcement personnel. “If we have the slightest indication that there may be something, especially mentally, which will negatively affect how you serve our city, we do not hire you,” Jermon added.
“I am hopeful about the future of our Department, and I truly believe that this change will help in our search to fill positions,” he concluded.
According to Jermon, another issue that is plaguing the city is the increase of drug usage throughout the area. “We are facing a problem that is truly bigger than ourselves,” he commented. Jermon stated that drug usage not only alters the mental state of the users, but also led to crimes being committed to gain money for drug supplies. These drugs also contribute to the mental health crisis within the area and nation, as people use these illegal substances as coping mechanisms. Jermon also discussed the presence of gang activity within the City, arguing that these gangs are different than the ones that he grew up with. “I am from Los Angeles – that’s where I grew up – so, I saw a lot of gangs,” he explained. “But the gangs I knew in Compton are not the same as the gangs we see here; we are having to learn about them and study how to handle them. Yet, the best way to handle gangs is to make sure children and adolescents feel loved and accepted, so that they avoid turning to these gang members for ‘love.’” He added, “In my experience, gangs don’t come looking for you – it’s not like a fraternity where they’re advertising for new members. Gangs just accept people who fall through the cracks of society and are searching for that sense of belonging; but that’s not real love or acceptance, and it is important that the youth of today understand that.” When asked what other issues he thinks contribute to the increase of violent crimes within Vidalia, Jermon referenced the existence of what he describes as “pure evil” within the world. “How do you combat pure evil?” he questioned. “With all of what we see in the world today, some of it truly is nothing but pure evil within society.”
According to Jermon, to be able to deal with this “pure evil,” the VPD needs the public’s help. “This is truly a public partnership – the police need the public to share when they witness events or have information that may be helpful to solving crimes,” he stated. “One person could have the piece of the puzzle that solves the case, and they need to report it. The use of Crimestoppers and tips is vital to the efficiency of law enforcement in the city.”
The police chief is also working to continue to build a positive relationship with the public and inform them of the rights and regulations of the law. Last Tuesday, April 12, and Thursday, April 14, Jermon hosted a “Chat With the Chief” event at The Pal Theatre, where business owners had the opportunity to participate in an information session about how to handle trespassers. The April 14 event was very relaxed and even featured a portion of time where attendees could ask the Chief questions and share their experiences.
Jermon said he hopes to continue these public forums so that the community may become aware of the law and get to know their police chief.
“I know a lot of violence is seen right now throughout the City, but I know the large majority of the citizens are not bad people – this perfect storm has just struck the area,” he emphasized. “I hope that the people of Vidalia know that their police force is working for their safety and strives to do the best possible job for the community. We love the community, and we will continue to work to protect it.”