Finding the best-paid cops in Georgia

The worst job in America?

Recent polls say it is "reporter" but take it from someone who has never been shot at in the line of duty, law enforcement officers have it worse.

Georgia State Patrol troopers and other state law enforcement officers are now the highest paid police in the state. (File photo by JOHN SPINK /JSPINK@AJC.COM)

Not only are police officers routinely in contact with the most violent segment of society, they aren't paid very much.

Recently, Gov. Nathan Deal's "No Cop Left Behind" plan resulted in a 20 percent pay hike for most state law enforcement officers. That elevated their starting pay from $38,000 a year to $46,000.

The 20 percent pay increase was necessary, it was argued , because "eight local law enforcement organizations pay their entry-level officers more than the starting salary for a state trooper."

While that may be true, most agencies pay less than what state troopers were making before the big boost.

Now we have something of an arms race, with state legislators and Dog the Bounty Hunter saying the state should make sure local police are paid as much as those in state agencies.

Gov. Deal says it's up to city and county officials, and not the state, to pony up more cash to hike the pay for local officers.

What's the average starting salary of a Georgia police officer anyway?

That question's not easily answered in a state with cities as big as Atlanta and as small as Hahira.

Tuesday I called or otherwise contacted more than a dozen agencies trying to get an idea of what rookie cops (or deputies) make.

The Georgia Sheriff's Association says the state average for a starting deputy "doesn’t reach $30,000." That sounds like a low number, and it is likely pulled down by rural counties.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs has a searchable database of salaries , but the information from 2016 seems outdated.

According to my research of current online job applications and interviews with recruiting officers, the average starting salary for a law enforcement officer in metro Atlanta is $38,000, the same amount new state troopers were making before the 20 percent increase.

The highest starting salary for local law enforcement? Officers in other cities told me "Johns Creek" but that north Fulton city didn't return my calls. It may have been last week's  wisecrack about their name .

Here's the starting salary several metro agencies pay high school graduates with no POST certification. 

  • Dunwoody: $43,000
  • Sandy Springs: $41,000
  • Atlanta: $40,000
  • Fulton County Sheriff's Office: $39,000
  • DeKalb County Police Department: $38,000
  • Decatur: $38,000
  • Cobb County Sheriff's Office: $38,000
  • Cobb County Police Department: $38,000
  • Valdosta: $37,000
  • Brunswick: $37,000
  • Gwinnett County Police Department: $36,000
  • Marietta: $36,000
  • Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office: $34,000

Quick thoughts? If I was a Gwinnett deputy I'd be headed to Brunswick with a beach towel. And I'm surprised police officers outside the metro area in mid-sized cities make as much as officers here.

Small counties and police departments pay a lot less than bigger agencies, but police salaries seem to match the local cost of living. The least populous county in Georgia is Taliaferro (pronounced "Toliver"). They have 13 sworn officers, less than 2,000 people and, unlike Mayberry, no jail. The starting salary for a deputy there is $25,000, which is about $1,000 higher than the county's median income.

New recruits in Dunwoody make a couple thousand less than the median income there.

Do police officers deserve a raise? Yes. You get what you pay for and society needs good police officers.

Should state officials determine what city and counties pay local police? The governor says no, but a large pay raise and market forces suggest they already have.

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