Georgia law enforcement officials recently turned to the state Legislature for pay raises and benefits to improve retention and recruitment and decrease high turnover rates in agencies across the state.
Officials urged lawmakers to make the fiscal changes in the recent House study committee in Americus, Georgia.
“Ask yourself this question: What if there were no police officers?” Colonel Chris Wright, commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety, queried lawmakers. “When law enforcement stops, civilized society stops.”
Department of Safety Chief of Staff Major Josh Lamb blamed efforts to defund the police and the anti-police rhetoric spread over the last several years for tarnishing the profession and making it difficult to recruit new officers.
He also referred to the bail-reform movement and the push to end qualified immunity for discouraging officers and lowering morale.
“It’s very difficult to convince people to choose to remain in this profession,” he said.
Wright told lawmakers that more needed to be done, as the $5,000 pay raise for state troopers did not lead to increased applicants or better retention.
And it’s not just law enforcement agencies that are suffering, but the state also loses millions of dollars when it loses officers.
Fourty-two Georgia State Police troopers retired between 2018 and 2022, while 180 took disability leave and 145 resigned or were terminated. Wright said the losses cost the state $43.1 million.
According to Wright, Georgia ranks 32 in the country for troopers’ starting salaries — a rank that needs improvement.
Georgia’s FBI Americus field office added that Georgia ranks 28th among 33 states in starting pay for investigators.
Meanwhile, correctional officers’ salaries are considered average compared to other states.
However, Georgia Corrections Commissioner Timothy Ward said other states are offering signing bonuses to new recruits.
Others cited low pay for police officers in rural counties as a factor in the high turnover rate.
Bret Murray, South Georgia Technical College in Americus’ law enforcement academy director, said that rural agencies start their officers at just $15 an hour, and promotions do not lead to significant raises due to compression.
“We’re losing the five-to-15-year officers,” he said. “They’re moving on to bigger agencies.”
For the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, this is a familiar struggle. The department has lost a third of its workforce in recent years.
“We’re in a time of crisis,” Sheriff Sills said. “I can tell you that we’re about a third short of our workforce. We’re short on 9-1-1 dispatch, we’re short on jail staff, and we’re tremendously short on the street. We’re not seeing any relief in it, really.”
The sheriff ultimately had the same opinion as Wright as to why the situation has gotten so bad.
“Law enforcement in America has been destroyed in the last two and a half years. We have been demonized and no one wants to do this. No one. I haven’t had a decent applicant in — I don’t remember when,” Sills said.
County commissioners responded to staff shortages by increasing starting pay to $45,000, but the raises have started a bidding war between agencies.
“Why are you going to go to work here for $45,000 if you can go to work in Jones County for $50,000, or you can go to work in Brookhaven for $40,000 more dollars a year,” Sills added.
Wright ultimately suggested the state increase pay raises, even the parity among agencies, to prevent officers from hopping from one agency to another and replace the current 401K plans with defined benefit plans.