LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Lakeland police officers are understaffed because good officers can find better wages in other agencies, officers and their new union argue.

They held a rally to build support for their demands amid contract negotiations with the city of Lakeland.

“We have officers leaving constantly because the better pay and benefits at other agencies allow them to go there after they’ve come here,” Officer Scott Hutton said at a rally outside city hall Monday.

In October, members voted to transition from the West Central Florida Police Benevolent Association to the Fraternal Order of Police.

The PBA had not negotiated a contract since the last one expired in October 2019.

“For 2019 through 2020, they received no pay raises whatsoever,” said William Lawless, staff representative for the Fraternal Order of Police.

Lawless said the union has tried to negotiate a retroactive contract with pay increases for the time between October 2019 to present.

That has not been successful, he said.

One offer from the city, he said, was a 5 percent wage increase for officers for one year of a three year contract beginning in 2021.

Wage hikes for the other years will be decided at a later time.

Lawless argues, that’s no contract at all.

“We have tried to acquiesce to the city’s demands. We’ve tried to make it a simpler process, as quick as can be, so we can move forward. We’re certainly not the stalling point on this,” he said.

Meanwhile, city officials say contract talks were stalled for eight months as officers transitioned to a new union.

They are still waiting to hear back on their latest offer.

“This commission loves the police department,” said Mayor Bill Mutz during a city commission meeting Monday. “This commission wants to see this police department performing at a level, in terms of compensation and pay, that is not necessarily equitable but on a longer term basis, above market. That would be our goal overall. We have to get past the contract negotiations.”

The union and the city return to the negotiating table on Friday afternoon at 1 o’clock in the Lakeland Electric building.

“The City of Lakeland fully supports and appreciates our law enforcement officers and we hope to reach a fair agreement for the community in the very near future,” wrote city of Lakeland communications director Kevin Cook.