More than two dozen police officers and firefighters stood in solidarity as they asked the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners for a raise on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM)
Photo: MARK NIESSE
Photo: MARK NIESSE

DeKalb police pay and attrition analyzed

When officers leave the DeKalb Police Department, they often list pay as the main reason, according to a county analysis of exit interviews.

But DeKalb officials say the county’s police salaries are competitive, and officers are departing for a variety of reasons including lower-stress jobs with better benefits. Last year, 96 officers left the county’s force of more than 800 officers, some of whom went to departments that offer higher pay.

DeKalb police are seeking a raise in the county’s 2016 budget, saying it would help stem attrition. All DeKalb employees received a 3 percent raise in 2014, but before then they hadn’t received an increase since 2007. Police and fire employees also received a one-time 3 percent bonus in 2013.

Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May said county needs to figure out how to retain officers.

“The salary survey that was done will show that in general they’re in line with the market, but as you can see the numbers bear out that we have way too many leaving for all of our comfort levels,” May said during a committee meeting Tuesday. “In my mind, we need to be ahead of the market.”

Most of those police officers who completed exit interviews remained in law enforcement, joining other local, state or federal agencies.

About 44 percent of those surveyed said pay was their main reason for leaving.

Other reasons included a lack of take-home cars, safety issues, long commutes, retirement and “job not a good fit,” according to the county’s exit interview analysis.

Policing in DeKalb comes with a heavy workload, with officers going from incident to incident and little time to spend in their communities, said Jeff Wiggs, president of the DeKalb Fraternal Order of Police.

“The bottom line is that the officers want to be compensated for the work they’re doing,” Wiggs said in an interview. “We have to lead. If we just meet par with everyone else, officers are going to keep leaving.”

Commissioners say they’re trying to find money for raises in this year’s budget, which is scheduled for a vote Feb. 25, but further pay adjustments would have to be made as part of midyear budget adjustments because the county’s pay study won’t be completed until late April.

“Pay is one of the issues, but it doesn’t seem to be the only issue,” said DeKalb Chief Operating Officer Zach Williams.

Entry-level officers in DeKalb receive salaries averaging $38,626, which is lower than departments in Atlanta and in Clayton, Cobb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties. The area’s average pay for entry-level officers is $40,930.

DeKalb pays its more experienced officers better. Master Police Officers, who generally have five years of experience or more, make an average of $51,307 in DeKalb compared to $50,171 in the metro Atlanta area.

The county’s analysis didn’t include MARTA or city police departments other than Atlanta, which in some cases pay higher salaries.

DeKalb firefighters are paid less than than police compared to nearby jurisdictions. Fire Department pay is about 15 percent below market averages, according to DeKalb Human Resources estimates.

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