Lt. Paul Plaza and Sgt. Matthew Steppey stand in City Council chambers after their promotion ceremony Sept. 2.

Lt. Paul Plaza and Sgt. Matthew Steppey stand in City Council chambers after their promotion ceremony Sept. 2.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

St. Clair Shores City Council approves increased police department staffing

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published September 3, 2020


ST. CLAIR SHORES — While the residents of St. Clair Shores have supported staffing minimums for the police and fire departments, it hasn’t always been easy for the Police Department to remain at full staff.

Police Chief Todd Woodcox is now facing the conundrum of having potentially more qualified candidates than he needs.

“Even though we’re at full staffing right now, we still have an active hiring list with good, quality candidates,” Woodcox said. “We don’t want to miss out on good, qualified candidates, especially in this day and age when police departments have trouble keeping staffing up.”

He requested permission from City Council Aug. 17 to interview the candidates and offer one or two a position within the department, if they pass an extensive background check.

The Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP, program provides the department with a timeline to plan for open positions. Woodcox said two command officers must retire by April 2021, so he was simply asking to bring the candidates on board a few months before the staffing would be needed so they didn’t find jobs with other departments first.

Mayor Kip Walby said he knew the department had had trouble finding quality candidates to fill positions in the past, but “in today’s era, we need a strong police department.”

“Statewide, hiring is difficult for all police agencies,” Woodcox agreed. “Our community has an amazing reputation. Everybody that knows police work knows this is the place they want to work.”

Woodcox also asked for permission to promote Sgt. Paul Plaza to lieutenant earlier than would have been needed in order to have a command officer dedicated to getting department accreditation from the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.

“In today’s climate, we really need to be accredited,” he told City Council, so an outside agency can take a very close look at the department’s practices and say, “you’ve done it right.”

Woodcox explained that accreditation is an in-depth, detailed process that can take more than a year to complete.

“That will be Sgt. Plaza’s job as Lt. Plaza,” he said.

Then after the two retirements coming in April 2021, the department will be down to its regular complement of 89 staff members.

“I am very pleased that council is allowing us to plan ahead and forecast for our retirements and fill vacancies before they occur instead of playing catch up,” Woodcox said. “That support is very important for our Police Department.”

He said he’s also happy that officers want to come work in St. Clair Shores. The last three officers hired by the department transferred from other police departments to come to St. Clair Shores.

Woodcox hoped to be able to give conditional offers to the candidates by the last week in August and then begin extensive background checks, which can take up to two months to complete. A new hire in the police department earns on average $102,000, including salary, benefits and retirement.

Plaza was promoted in a ceremony at City Hall Sept. 2. Woodcox also promoted Officer Matthew Steppey to the rank of sergeant to backfill the position vacated by Plaza.

During the ceremony, Woodcox said it was thanks to the support of the city, the mayor and council, residents and their families that the promotions were possible.

“I have the utmost respect for the two of you,” Woodcox said Sept. 2. “I will always have your back, as long as you continue on the path (as) you have done.”