DeKalb CEO announces 6.5% raises for cops, firefighters

Thurmond: Raise would put county among state’s highest paying large jurisdictions

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond announced Tuesday 6.5% raises for county police officers, firefighters, paramedics and EMTs — a move he said will make them among the highest paid in the state, at least compared to other large jurisdictions.

Thurmond teased the plan for police raises nearly two months ago, but had not yet released the specifics. The increase would be effective Oct. 1 and raise starting police recruit salaries to $50,500. Officers who are already POST certified would start at $52,000.

The pay raises would also apply to existing sworn officers with the rank lieutenant and below.

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Hiring incentives of $3,000 for both police and fire department staff are in place as well.

“We can’t be reactive,” Thurmond said. “We have to be proactive and take proactive steps.”

Officials have said the DeKalb County Police Department is at least 150 officers short of its ideal staffing. In addition to other initiatives aimed at retaining existing officers —which include offering triple overtime pay — Thurmond said the county will hire EPIC Consulting Group LLC to lead an “aggressive national recruiting effort.”

The CEO said existing recruiters were doing a good job but are facing a challenging environment. DeKalb human resources director Benita Ransom likened hiring the consulting firm to taking “bold actions to get better results.”

Thurmond had previously implied federal COVID-19 stimulus funds were being targeted for salary increases. But budget director TJ Sigler said Tuesday the estimated $2.4 million required to fund raises for the remainder of this year would be “covered through salary savings that already exist in police and fire budgets.”

That suggests the county will use money that was previously budgeted for positions that have gone unfilled.

According to information presented Tuesday, the new starting salary for DeKalb police recruits would eclipse those in the city of Atlanta and Cobb and Gwinnett counties. Firefighter recruits would start at a few hundred dollars less than those in Cobb but come in above those in the other two jurisdictions.

Thurmond said that’s something that he, with the help of commissioners, has worked toward since taking office in 2017. Police and fire salaries have steadily increased over that period; the county offered multiple retention bonuses during the pandemic and ultimately made COVID-related hazard pay permanent.

The CEO has also stressed the need for a more comprehensive approach to crime prevention and public safety. His announcement on pay came shortly after he and other DeKalb officials joined U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff to tout national legislation that, among other things, includes funding for crisis intervention teams, mental health courts and other programs that help law enforcement officers assist individuals experiencing mental illness.

Later this week, the county will announce the recipients of a $1 million initiative that will provide funding to existing violence interruption and intervention programs in DeKalb.