Cypress Officials Approve Ramped Up Salary Range for Next Police Chief, Whoever it is

JESSICA RUIZ, Voice of OC

Cypress City Hall.

To attract high quality candidates, Cypress City Council members on Monday unanimously increased the salary negotiation range for whoever they select as the city’s top cop.

In a move that came without discussion and could ramp up costs to the public, the new range bumps the minimum negotiable base salary for the incoming police chief by nearly $55,000, up from about $136,000 to more than $190,000, and the maximum amount by nearly $15,000, from about $209,000 up to more than $223,000. 

The total compensation could be much higher, when accounting for other pay and benefits. Staff anticipate that if the new police chief were to be paid at the highest rate within that range, it would require an extra $21,000 out of the budget to account for the additional costs. 

But the city and selected chief could come to a salary agreement at any dollar amount within the newly-adjusted range. 

Finalists for the chief’s position are expected to be announced in October, according to a recruitment timeline attached to city staff’s report for the meeting. 

The city’s outgoing police chief, Rodney Cox, made a salary near the upper end of the old $208,896 pay range maximum at $200,000 in 2018, according to the government watchdog group Transparent California.

In total pay plus benefits, Cox made $334,307.03 that year, overseeing law enforcement in a city with a population of under 50,000.

Public agencies for years have justified these types of salary spending increases with the argument that high quality leadership and personnel demand competitive pay. 

When Santa Ana City Council members approved $25 million in pay raises to take effect over three years for the city’s police officers in 2019, elected officials like Mayor Miguel Pulido argued they needed to compete with other agencies across the region for those same officers at a time where filling vacancies at the police department was a priority. 

Indeed, Cypress city staff in their report for Monday’s meeting wrote: “Identifying and hiring highly-qualified candidates for executive level positions in local governments is challenging.”

“There is a limited pool of experienced candidates and competition from other local agencies for top-level talent is high. In order to ensure Cypress remains able to attract top talent, it is important salary ranges for key positions are periodically reviewed and compared to the marketplace,” the report adds. 

The city determined the adjusted salary negotiation ranges after conducting a survey with its Human Resources Department and a recruiting firm, Teri Black and Co., of comparable police chief positions in Orange and Los Angeles counties. 

“The survey indicates the police chief range is in the lower third of comparable agencies and five to ten percent below the middle of the range. An adjustment to the salary range for the chief of police is recommended to position the city to recruit top candidates,” according to the staff report.

The city is set to begin active recruitment this week, according to the staff’s timeline.

The salary decision comes amid a countywide — indeed nationwide — debate over the way police departments enjoy a hefty diet of millions of taxpayer dollars in public agencies’ budgets, often eating up the lion’s share of those spending plans. 

Police got 48% of the Cypress 2020-21 budget spending, or an appropriation of $19 million. The only other department in the city coming close to that appropriation is Public Works, which got 20% or $8.2 million. 

Cypress council members themselves just recently touched on the city’s police department spending choices, when they voted in July to approve a $5.75 million renovation of the police department’s headquarters.

The city’s 20,0000 square-foot police building was originally constructed in 1982, and it had been more than 20 years since any major investments had been made toward the structure, resulting in public areas and employee workspaces that were dated and worn-out, according to city staff. 

But while the refurbishments were set to make the department offices safer, the project also included millions of dollars to add reconfigured office space layouts, LED light fixtures, a semi-private outdoor seating area, and new modern furniture and workspaces.

“While I’ve always been in favor of the necessary work, including the seismic retrofit, I don’t support the very extensive and expensive modernization component and the additional $1.5 million which was appropriated at the Feb. 10 meeting this year, which brings the total cost to $5.75 million,” said Councilwoman Stacy Berry, who pulled the item off the consent calendar for public discussion at the July 13 meeting.

Mayor Rob Johnson defended the project before the vote.

“It’s a project that’s a long time coming, I don’t think we’ve ever had any retrofit, any changes to the police department … so I’d like to see it go forward because who knows what cost it’ll be (in the future),” he said.

The council approved the plan and the spending amount, with Berry being the only one opposed.

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.