A Nashville police official met with 20 Camden officers in a city union hall Wednesday to try to lure them south.
Police Detective Leonard Keeler hopes a cheaper cost of living, lower property taxes, and job security will help sell the officers, who are facing layoffs, on the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department. A recruiter and background investigator for the 1,350-member Nashville force, Keeler has spent two days pitching his department to Camden police.
Nashville plans to hire at least 100 officers by the end of next year to cope with expected retirements and to police a city with a burgeoning multicultural population.
"We saw this as an opportunity to come up and court experienced officers that are doing apples-to-apples work," Keeler, a 31-year veteran, said Wednesday after a break from his post at the Fraternal Order of Police in Camden.
Cash-strapped Camden, one of the nation's most dangerous cities, plans to lay off nearly half its roughly 373-member force. Notices were handed out last week, and layoffs are set to take effect Jan. 18. But the city and union continue to negotiate.
About 50 Camden officers have expressed some interest in Nashville, almost half of them rookies, Keeler said.
Keeler, whose mother is a Philadelphia native, said he had read about Camden's financial woes and reached out to John Williamson, president of Camden's FOP, two weeks ago.
"He said, 'If the City of Camden doesn't want or appreciate its officers, then the City of Nashville does, and we want them,'" Williamson said.
Nashville, however, will not pay relocation costs, and veteran officers would have to start with a rookie salary between $40,000 and $42,000, not including overtime, educational incentives, and other benefits.
The maximum base salary after a decade is $57,000, not including incentives, Keeler said.
Base salaries for Camden officers start about $31,000 and can go to about $73,000 after 10 years, Williamson said.
But Tennessee employees don't pay a state income tax, Keeler said. Nashville also covers all contributions to the city's pension fund for public-safety employees, he said.
"Those are real dollars in your pocket," he said.
Keeler, a member of his local FOP, is recruiting FOP and non-FOP members from New Jersey. He met with state FOP officials Tuesday and plans to contact other New Jersey departments hit by layoffs.
If interest is high, he said, Nashville hopes to do physical and civil-service testing in New Jersey.
Recruiters from other major cities are also interested.
"I'm just the tip of the spear," Keeler said. "There will be other departments coming here to New Jersey, to Camden. These cities are going to be more than happy to take New Jersey's finest."
Nashville is also recruiting in other places, such as Ohio cities hit by layoffs, he said.
In the last four years, Nashville's department has grown from slightly more than 1,100 uniformed officers to 1,350. Nashville recruiters have hired between 35 and 50 officers every six months for the last three years, Keeler said.
Since 1962, the department has laid off one officer, Keeler said. That was in 1968, and the officer was rehired after three weeks, he said.