Chief’s pay on par with similar-sized Utah cities, Messenger analysis shows

 

John Hales

Staff writer

7/6/2017

 

EPHRAIM—Regardless of any reason or conjecture about Ephraim Police Chief Ron Rasmussen’s failing to properly or completely fill out police reports, the matter brings up a question:

How much is a public employee—who may not be adequately fulfilling his duties—getting paid?

As of July 1, Rasmussen is receiving compensation in the amount of $84,491 and benefits in the amount of roughly $45,000, for a total compensation of about $129,700.

Obviously, gauging whether that amount is too much, too little or just right is subjective.

A little illumination can be gained by comparing the chief’s pay to that of his peers in other Utah cities.

To do that, the Messenger looked at the compensation, certain population demographics and police department characteristics of every city in Utah with populations between roughly 4,000 and 10,000. There are 35 such cities, according 2016 population figures on www.utah-demographics.com.

Ephraim falls right in the middle with 6,857. (While there is some debate about the school-in/school-out population in Ephraim, we were able to determine that the figure included students on Snow College’s Ephraim campus.)

Of those 35 cities, 17 do not have police departments of their own; two others, Ivins and Santa Clara, had combined their police forces, and the combined populations of the two cities boosted them out of the study. And one city, Riverdale, was excluded because of an anomaly in the listed salary, as provided by the state’s transparency website (www.utah.gov/transparency), which we were unable to explain by press time.

Of the remaining 17 cities, Ephraim again falls in the middle, ranked eighth. Sorted by either salary or total compensation of the police chief, Ephraim is in the very same spot, eighth, in both cases.

So, Rasmussen’s pay seems to be in line in terms of city population.

But even then, there are other questions that can go into deciding how much a police chief is worth, even without considerations of job performance.

“There are so many factors,” says Todd Hixson, chief of police in West Bountiful City, which, believe it or not, is comparable to Ephraim in a couple of ways and was included in the study.

In fact, with a population of 5,511, West Bountiful is actually smaller than Ephraim—but you’d never know it.

“Although we have a small geographic footprint, I’m surrounded by city. I have the influence of Salt Lake coming and impacting crime,” Hixson said, illustrating why it can be difficult to judge one police chief’s salary by the work another police chief has to do. “If I’m compared to agency ‘x’ that has 5,000 people, and they have five officers, and all they have around them is farmland, that’s big difference.”

But if it sounds like Hixson is saying suburban policing deserves more pay than rural policing, that’s not quite accurate.

Judged by median annual household income in the respective jurisdictions, Ephraim is dead last, with $39,392. Some have found a correlation between lower-income areas and the crime rate.

Ephraim’s median age, once Snow students are factored in, is significantly lower than anywhere else. Again, lower-aged, “rowdier” populations are prone to see greater crime. And even though Snow College does have its own police force, not all student crime happens on campus.

But both the income and the age factors might be offset by what Hixson calls “community values.”

A more conservative city, with perhaps more religiosity, would conceivably see less crime than one rooted less in certain ideals.

More obvious factors are a chief’s experience, or time in the position of chief. A longer-serving chief would see that experience reflected in their salary.

Rasmussen has been on the job for 27 years, though not all of those as chief. (The idea that he is Utah’s longest-serving police chief is not accurate; we found two among our studied cities that had served longer.)

All of this points to Hixson’s summation, “It’s very difficult to really pinpoint one specific thing or just lump a small group of things together, because it’s so complex.”

Statistics the Messenger did not look at, but which could be relevant, include the number of calls received by a police department, and the amount of service-time spent per call.

But almost more than anything, the size of the police force becomes a factor in how much work a chief has to do.

This is certainly the case in Ephraim, both because of the size of Ephraim’s force, and because many have advanced the argument that Rasmussen was overworked, and that has led to deficiencies in paperwork.

There’s some, at least, validity to that argument, according to the Messenger’s findings.

Ephraim had been operating with six officers, ranking second to last among the study’s cities.

West Bountiful City, with 1,300 fewer people than Ephraim, has 10 officers. Hixson compared that to the situation of his fellow chief, Rasmussen.

“If I was to have five officers in that situation, my head would explode,” Hixson said. “I don’t know now he was functioning with that number. I’ll bet a big chunk of his challenges were a lack of officers, and a lack of [downline] supervisors. I would imagine this poor guy was buried.”

As much culpability as Rasmussen might have had for deficiencies in his police department, some of the blame had to go higher up, Hixson said.

“I get everyone’s trying to be fiscally responsible, but there comes a point where a city’s going to get the level of service that they’re willing to pay for,” he said. “If they’re willing to pay for a five-person force in a town—a college town—of 6,000 people, that’s the kind of service they’ll get. What a challenge.”