ESCALON, Calif. (KTXL) — Escalon police are asking for a raise after struggling to retain officers who are leaving to work for neighboring law enforcement agencies that pay more.

The city and the police officers association are currently in contract negotiations, but neither side is willing to budge.

At a recent council meeting, officers and supporters in the community encouraged the city invest in the police department.

“The pay here is low and we cannot retain experienced officers,” Escalon Police Officers Association Vice President Robert Hardgraves said.

Escalon Police Officers Association Vice President Robert Hardgraves says many officers use their agency as a stepping stone on the path to better paying departments nearby.

“Agencies that pay more are not far from here. And it’s really not even a 10-minute drive,” Hardgraves said.

Hardgraves, a Seargent with 17 years on the job, says Escalon is the lowest-paid police force in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.

“Escalon people use it as a foot in the door,” Hardgraves said. “They get hired on here. They get their experience and then they go to those other agencies.”

“It does bother me,” Dave Willis, a police volunteer said. “I get to know somebody, and they’re gone.”

The Police Officers Association says losing experienced officers impacts how they’re able to serve the community.

“It’s detrimental to the citizens of Escalon because then they’re constantly relying on young officers to investigate their crimes,” Hardgraves said.

“I’ve enjoyed getting to know the officers in the city I live in,” Mike Kelly, an Escalon resident and Manteca Police Officer said. “Community policing is so important, and you don’t just find that in new recruits.”

According to the union, the base pay for officers in Escalon is just under $57,000 a year compared to $87,000 in Manteca.

Initially, the officers asked for a 32% raise over the next three years, but that was rejected by the city. Now, officers are countering.

“We believe that 25% over the course of three years is reasonable as those other agencies are likely to receive pay raises that will put them even further ahead of us,” said Hardgraves.

The city confirms that they do give pay increases for the first 5 years, but the police say it’s not enough to keep up with rising costs and inflation.

Several residents spoke at the meeting supporting police and urging the city to pay up.

“As a constituent, I’m requesting we do whatever we can do to take care of our own,” Shawn Strohman, an Escalon resident said.