Sheriff Kevin Sproul: Local Law Enforcement Salaries
Tuesday, February 28th, 2017
As sheriff, I feel it is my responsibility to make citizens aware of issues that could seriously impact public safety. We were reminded during recent events just how important it is to have local law enforcement officers ready to respond to the needs of citizens. The citizens of Dougherty County have seen local law enforcement patrolling storm-damaged neighborhoods, protecting property, and assisting troubled citizens. What they may not have seen is that those local agencies are all experiencing heavy vacancies. Recent legislation may make this worse.
This year, new legislation went into effect that raised the pay for state-level law enforcement officers by 20%. Losing our local Albany / Dougherty County police officers and Dougherty County deputies to higher-paying state and federal jobs is nothing new, but now the pay differential is so extreme that it is cause for alarm. The current starting salary for a Georgia State Patrol officer after completing his/her basic training is $46,422.00 per year. By contrast, the starting salary for a Dougherty County deputy sheriff or Dougherty County police officer is $27,888.37.
This is not just a local problem. Last November, the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association conducted a survey with 76 of the 159 sheriffs reporting that they had lost more than 500 of their deputies to state law enforcement agencies over the last 10 years. That is an astounding number and doesn’t even include the remaining 83 sheriffs’ offices or any local police departments.
During an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Governor Nathan Deal was asked why he was giving state law enforcement a 20% pay raise. He responded, “First of all, they deserve it. The nature of what they do is hazardous.” As sheriff, I completely agree. I would say, however, that a local law enforcement officer’s job is every bit as hazardous, if not more so.
During 2016, 140 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty in the United States. Eighty-one of those officers were killed by gunfire or other violence. Of those, the vast majority (84%) were municipal police officers or county deputy sheriffs. When you are driving around town or through your neighborhood and you see a law enforcement vehicle, chances are it is a local police agency or sheriff’s office vehicle. If you call 911, it will be a local law enforcement officer who responds. Our SWAT team is made up of local officers and deputies.
There is another danger to local law enforcement. When agencies experience vacancies, the remaining officers have to work longer hours to cover for vacant positions. Over time, fatigue can become a critical issue and impact officer safety.
The recruitment and retention of local law enforcement officers is a problem similar to the problems faced by school systems several years ago. When unable to recruit and retain good teachers in local school systems, the state enacted legislation that mandated a statewide minimum pay scale, insurance, and retirement system for our local educators. I believe it is necessary to take similar action to ensure our local communities remain safe and have adequate law enforcement protection.
This year, the Georgia Sheriffs will be seeking legislation to mandate a minimum salary for local law enforcement officers to at least match that of a Georgia State Patrol officer. Normally, local law enforcement officers are paid by local taxes. We, however, are proposing an additional penny of sales tax which would be solely dedicated and restricted to fund only local city and county law enforcement officers’ salaries and benefits.
This is an issue that directly affects my ability to protect the public. I have spoken with both the Albany Police Chief and the Dougherty County Police Chief and they agree that this directly affects their ability to do so as well. Therefore, I am asking for your help. Please write, email, or call your state senators and representatives and tell them to support and vote for legislation that will require your local law enforcement officers be paid at least the starting pay of a state trooper.
This is my 911 call to you. Your local officers need your help. I know that no one wants to pay more in taxes – neither do I, but this is a critical issue and needs resolution. Thank you for your consideration and continued support.