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Time to set minimum on local law enforcement pay

Last month, a Richmond County deputy sheriff lost his life while attempting to carry a downed medical professional to safety. Sergeant Greg Meagher was the first officer killed in the line of duty in Georgia during 2017.

Last week, Lowndes County Deputy Sheriff Chris Butler died of injuries sustained in a wreck while responding to a violent domestic situation making him the second Georgia deputy sheriff killed in the line of duty this year. During 2016, Georgia suffered the loss of nine law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, ranking ours as the fourth highest loss of law enforcement life in the nation.

Uncertainty and danger are a part of everyday life for local officers as we answer 911 calls all day, every day across the state. These courageous women and men run toward gunfire and other unknown threats in an effort to protect all of us. While data indicates an overall decline in most crime categories over the past few decades, one area of violent crime has spiked.

Violent attacks on local officers, for no reason other than they wear the badge, is on the rise at an alarming pace.

As sheriffs, we applaud Gov. Nathan Deal’s leadership in understanding the dangers inherent in our profession and recognizing the need to better compensate state law

enforcement officers through recent salary increases of more than twenty percent. Under his plan, a Georgia State Patrol trooper will earn $46,422, after basic training which is

unquestionably warranted and long overdue.

Unfortunately, pay for our local officers statewide lags far behind. The average starting salary of a deputy sheriff in Georgia is $29,900, for a jailer $25,300 and some small police departments pay less than $24,000 annually. These average starting salaries are lower than starting salaries reported in our surrounding states.

In Georgia, elected city and county officials limit the salaries of local officers through their budgets which are funded with local taxes. While some localities have taken steps to improve wages, their efforts as a whole do not ensure our local officers will be adequately compensated, nor will most of their salaries be near the levels of state officers.

As elected Constitutional Officers and chief law enforcement officers of each county, sheriffs across Georgia are calling up our local and state elected officials to find “the will” and “the way” to correct this serious problem threatening our public’s safety.

The sheriffs have written every member of the General Assembly during the past month asking that legislation be introduced which will ensure local officers be adequately paid. As a result, state senators Michael Williams, R-Forsyth County, Greg Kirk, R-Sumter County, and Josh McKoon, R-Muscogee County, took a bold step and introduced Senate Bill 254, which requires that the salaries of deputy sheriffs be, at a minimum, the same salary paid to beginning state troopers. Although it appears this crucial legislation will likely not become law this year, it is a tremendous step in the right direction and Georgia sheriffs truly appreciate the strong support of these three men.

This conversation is long overdue as our women and men in local law enforcement are the ones who answer the 911 calls in every community throughout Georgia. Local officers make 94 percent of all arrests statewide and are the ones most exposed to the dangers of our profession. These local deputies and city officers deserve our help.

It may not happen overnight, but we all must make this conversation a priority so that your local law enforcement professionals may be compensated in a manner more commensurate with the dangerous service they perform, without requiring them to work two and sometimes three extra jobs to provide for their families. It’s time, past the time really, to establish a statewide minimum salary for local law enforcement.

Terry Deese is Sheriff of Peach County and Ted Jackson is Fulton County Sheriff.

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