DeKalb CEO teases plan to make county cops among state’s best paid

Burned body found in back seat of car in DeKalb County after car fire, police say

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Burned body found in back seat of car in DeKalb County after car fire, police say

Local FOP president says ‘words are cheap’; rumors of ‘sick out’ loom

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond on Tuesday teased plans to make local police officers among the highest paid in the state.

No specifics were revealed. But Thurmond said he’ll soon propose using a portion of the county’s next batch of American Rescue Plan funds — $73 million in federal stimulus dollars that recently arrived in DeKalb’s bank account — to fulfill a promise he made when he first took office five years ago.

DeKalb County police officers “will be the best or among the best paid in the state, which is a commitment that I made from Day 1,” Thurmond said.

“It’s about attracting recruits and retaining the officers that we train,” the CEO, a Democrat, said. “This is the biggest challenge public and private sector employers are facing right now. It’s just an extremely tight labor market and we have to be competitive.”

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DeKalb’s police department is well below its ideal numbers; the county said Wednesday that 638 of the 798 sworn positions that have been budgeted for were filled. Like nearly everywhere else in the state and the country, the county has also seen increases in violent crime.

An email purporting to have originated from concerned DeKalb officers was forwarded to a number of Atlanta-area media members late last week. It called the department “understaffed, overworked and underappreciated,” encouraged officers to advocate for better pay and benefits, and suggested that all officers scheduled to work on Friday call in sick.

Jeff Wiggs, president of the DeKalb Fraternal Order of Police, confirmed that the email had been circulating among officers. He said the FOP does not condone sick outs because they only “put the good citizens of DeKalb in jeopardy to be victimized.”

But, he said, he gets it.

Wiggs described morale as the lowest he’s seen it in the 35 years he’s been in DeKalb, and said officers have “lost faith in this administration” and Chief Mirtha Ramos.

As for new, potentially game-changing raises?

“Words are cheap,” Wiggs said. “And we will believe it when we see it.”

Thurmond, meanwhile, said he’s spent years building to his upcoming proposal, which must ultimately be approved by county commissioners. He touted previous pay raises and other initiatives; those included recent $3,000 retention bonuses, which were provided twice, and the decision to convert COVID-era hazard pay into permanent raises.

The current hiring rate for new recruits is $47,000 and the county is now offering triple pay for overtime. It also plans to double retirement plan contributions to 6%.

While the currently unspecified compensation increases would initially be covered by one-time federal stimulus funds, Thurmond said he was “very confident that the decision we make will be a sustainable one.”

The Tuesday morning meeting in which Thurmond teased his forthcoming proposal came as the county is considering mid-year budget adjustments.

Commissioner Ted Terry said a “highly trained, highly paid” police force was a good thing but also raised questions about the lack of a line-item budget for the department and stressed the need for a more holistic approach to public safety.

He said if the county merely pours more money into the department it will “continue to make the same mistake that our society has made for 30-plus years.”

DeKalb COO Zach Williams said the county has “invested a lot in non-traditional public safety” efforts and will continue to do so.

“What this administration is not going to propose, certainly, is a one-faceted strategy,” Williams said.