Committee Recommends $56,000 Starting Salary for Georgia Law Enforcement Officers |  local news

A Georgia study board recommends that starting salaries for state law enforcement officers start at the national average of $56,000.

The recommendation is among several recommendations by the State and Local Law Enforcement Salaries Study Committee to help recruit and retain workers in this grueling profession. Butch Ayers, executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, told the committee the national average of $56,000 at a previous meeting.

“I say if we start somewhere, let’s start with what the research has shown, at least ($56,000),” said Rep. Yasmin Neal, a committee member and former law enforcement official. “At least we’re going to put something out there so the various local entities know where we’re trying to get to, like that’s the bare minimum.”

Just before the committee approved his proposal on December 13, Neal proposed that the minimum salary recommendation be included in the committee’s final report, and the board unanimously approved Neal’s amendment.

While numbers vary by source, most show that Georgia ranks sixth among the states with the lowest law enforcement salaries.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary of police officers and sheriff’s patrol officers is just over $70,000.

California tops the list for highest average officer salaries with nearly $103,000, followed by Washington, New Jersey, Alaska and Illinois.

Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, South Carolina and West Virginia bottom the list with average salaries below Georgia’s average salary of about $47,000.

“This is absolutely awful,” said committee member Rep. Clint Crowe. “I don’t think we can impose (a minimum salary). I don’t know if we would ever make it. But we can certainly encourage it and try to find ways later to help some departments achieve that.”

Other recommendations of the committee are:

• Creation of an optional statewide law enforcement pension scheme, available to all new public safety employees in the state. The statewide plan could move with the employee if he transfers to another public safety agency in the state.

• Amending the Georgia Code to allow an agency to charge training fees from another agency hiring its employees who will leave within 15 months.

• Encouraging the Georgia university system to work with the Georgia Public Safety Training Center to create a law enforcement degree.

• Encouraging the Georgia university system to increase the number of universities accepting Georgia Public Safety Training Center coursework for coursework.

“As for retirement, I know that when you get to a certain point, you might stay a little longer and not get out once you get to that point,” said Crowe, also a former law enforcement official. “If you’re in a position like me, once I finished where I was, I made the decision to quit the profession altogether. If I could transfer my pension to another department, I might have stayed longer and finished my career there before moving into private industry to do other things.”

Chairman Rep. Mike Cheokas said any approved state-level proposals related to retirement would require a two-year process, with a recommendation in the first year and an actuarial analysis in the second year. Lawmakers would then consider the proposal on the floor for discussion and passage.

“One of the most worrying things for me has been the drop in applications for many departments — that’s the problem,” Crowe said. “Not only are we losing people, we don’t even have enough people applying to fill any of those roles, so there are some things we need to do to get people wanting to go back into that profession.”

The committee’s recommendations would go to the Public Safety Committee for consideration before lawmakers consider possible legislation.