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Police Chief Terry Moss pitches program that would help officers with escrow payments for homes in St. Helens

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - St. Helens Police Chief Terry Moss speaks during a St. Helens City Council work session Wednesday, May 2. Moss is pitching a recruiting and retention program that would help officers purchase homes in the city to encourage longevity with SHPD. The St. Helens Police Department is proposing a new recruiting and retention program that would help officers purchase homes in the St. Helens community, and increase investment in the city.

SHPD Police Chief Terry Moss proposed the "Career Commitment, Residency & Longevity Reward Program" during a City Council work session Wednesday, May 2.

Moss spent nearly a year developing the program with the help of legal advice, support from local credit unions, and conversations with City Council and staff. It would be used as a recruiting and retention tool to attract law enforcement officers and encourage them to stay in the community.

Such incentive programs are becoming increasingly common. Many agencies, like Portland Police Bureau, offer cash bonuses for officers who transfer laterally, while others offer signing bonuses for new recruits.

Moss wanted to do something different, however.

"I thought that as we have people that live out of the community, that if we give them a check, that check will be taken back to the community they live in. It doesn't do anything to build community in St. Helens," Moss said. "My suggestion was, what if we could create an opportunity to get those people to invest in St. Helens?"

Applicants would be eligible for up to $25,000, which would be placed in an escrow account to purchase a home within the St. Helens School District's limits. The city would place a lien on the purchased property, which would be lifted only if the officer remained with SHPD for five years after the approved purchase of the home.

Any officer with SHPD would be eligible to apply, not just new hires.

"What we're really doing is getting buy-in to the city and the school district and getting people to be part of the community. That hasn't been done before," Moss said.

Lt. Joseph Hogue explained that training and certification for new police officers takes a significant amount of time and investment. Police academy training takes 16 weeks to complete, and it can be close to a year before a new officer gains sufficient on-the-job training, Hogue explained. Thinking of creative ways to retain employees, not just recruit them, is key.

"One thing we've talked about is, when you think about who's been a long-term, successful employee, generally speaking, it's someone who's here and is invested in the community and has an interest in the community," Hogue said.

During Wednesday's meeting, many city councilors were in support of the program and remarked on its potential benefits.

The proposal will likely come back to the City Council for approval later this month.

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