A proposal to give DeKalb County police officers a huge 20 percent pay raise to improve crime-fighting appears unlikely to move forward.
Instead of across-the-board pay increases, DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond said Tuesday he’ll eliminate pay disparities and award raises based on skills and experience.
The new plan for improving first responders’ compensation lacks the impact of a sweeping pay bump, but Thurmond said he hopes to target the most deserving police officers, firefighters and 911 personnel.
“We don’t want to be engaged in a one-off reactionary response. We need to have a more planned, more strategic approach to creating a more competitive salary structure,” Thurmond said in an interview after briefing county commissioners on his pay proposal. “We’re firm in the belief we can make a substantial impact.”
DeKalb’s police force has been shrinking for several years — from more than 1,000 to about 740 — as officers have left for departments with higher pay, more benefits and less dangerous beats. The decline is also caused by new cities like Brookhaven and Dunwoody taking over police services from the county.
DeKalb pays early-career police officers $40,270 on average — lower than Atlanta and Fulton County but higher than Cobb and Gwinnett counties, according to DeKalb figures. The salaries of master police officers in DeKalb average $51,167, which is 5 percent below the market average.
The cost and details of Thurmond’s plan will be revealed with his mid-year budget proposal next week. The DeKalb Commission scheduled a July 11 vote on the budget.
Commissioners considered a proposal for 20 percent pay raises for public safety employees before approving the annual 2017 budget in February. But they didn’t pass the measure, which would have cost about $30 million a year, opting to wait until this summer before deciding on compensation.
Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson said she initially supported the substantial pay increase, but she now favors Thurmond’s incremental effort, and additional raises might be considered next year.
“The people that represent the agencies and the departments have told me, ‘We want a more comprehensive approach,’” said Johnson, chairwoman for the commission’s Employee Relations & Public Safety Committee. “They work on the front lines. … They know better than me how to approach this situation.”
Jeff Wiggs, president of the DeKalb Fraternal Order of Police, said he’s optimistic that Thurmond’s proposal will result in more consistent, fair and higher salaries.
“Pay is all over the chart” between officers and ranks, Wiggs said. “It can’t be fixed overnight; however, we’re hoping for a big step in the right direction and then continue in next year’s budget.”
But Faye Coffield, a former Atlanta police sergeant, said officers need substantial raises.
“Any time you get more money as an assistant manager at QuikTrip, you have a problem,” she said. “It’s crazy. You don’t want to pay people, but you expect them to risk their lives.”
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