4 percent pay raise proposed for DeKalb public safety employees

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond proposed a 4 percent salary increase for the county’county police officers and firefighters Monday.

The proposed pay raise would also extend to sheriff’s deputies, medical examiner investigators, the marshal’s office, solicitor-general’s investigators and 911 communications center employees.

If approved by the county's board of commissioners, the public safety pay raise — estimated to cost $7.1 million —would take effect on the Nov. 9 pay period for 2,100 employees. The raise follows a 3 percent raise granted earlier this year to DeKalb employees whose salaries had not been adjusted since 2016.

Thurmond acknowledged after the Monday morning press conference that while the raise was a step in the right direction, the county has a long way to go in its public safety efforts.

“The challenge is it has to be an ongoing strategy. We have to continue to invest,” Thurmond told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Part of that strategy is increasing the base salary for longtime tenured employees who had been making the same salary as newer employees, Thurmond said. The base salary for a police officer without a college degree is $39,296 before the raise, and $41,261 for officers with a degree. E-911 and firefighter recruits are making $34,364 and $37,652 respectively before the proposed increase.

DeKalb County Public Safety Director Jack Lumpkin said the raise should help retain officers, who would otherwise leave the county for more money.

Still, the raise doesn’t put DeKalb at the top of the pay scale for departments in metro Atlanta.

The starting salary for an Atlanta police officer with a high school diploma is $40,000; it increases to $42, 800 for an officer with a four-year college degree and can top out at more than $55,000.

In Gwinnett County, police officer trainees start at $38,642 and $40,960 with a four-year degree. Higher level police officers earn more than $49,000 and $52,000 with a four-year degree.

“We have to have incentives to recruit and retain people within DeKalb County,” Lumpkin said, adding the department was fortunate to have eight officers who previously left the department return.

DeKalb County is the latest metro Atlanta government to propose increasing salaries for its police department. Earlier this month, Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced a substantial boost — 30 percent over the next three years — in an effort to retain and recruit police officers. The Atlanta City Council approved $10 million in raises for the department Monday.

“It is time for the city of Atlanta to take care of those who take care of us, which is why our administration will immediately get to work to provide Atlanta’s officers with the compensation they deserve,” Bottoms said, framing the pay increase as a public safety issue.

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Last year, Thurmond cited retention issues when he proposed a 2018 budget that included a plan to hire 155 police officers and spend $500,000 on revamped recruiting strategies to retain more officers.

Since then, the department has added 50 new vehicles to its fleet (with 50 more coming next year) and will increase its training academies to five next year and six in 2019.

But while the department has recruited as far as New York and have looked within the military for candidates, DeKalb police Chief James Conroy said recruitment remains an issue.

“We’re doing more with less, but we can’t sustain that,” Conroy said.

According to GBI crime stats, DeKalb officials investigated more than 34,500 crimes in 2017 — down from more than 35,000 in 2016. DeKalb police statistics show violent crime is down, with police investigating more than 3,184 such incidents. Conroy touted the county's decreased crime rates, but acknowledged the department has about 740 sworn personnel, not including its reserve and part-time officers, and is looking to increase to 850 officers.

One solution Thurmond has for the county’s recruiting efforts is to add more millennials to its workforce. According to the Pew Research Center, millennials comprise 35 percent of the U.S. labor force, making them the largest labor force in the U.S. In 2017, roughly 56 million millennials were working or looking for work.

In some cases, DeKalb’s recruiting efforts have worked.

The county’s E-911 communications center is fully staffed for the first time in nearly a decade and fire rescue departments are just a few firefighters short of being fully staffed, Thurmond said.

Aside from salary, Lumpkin said ensuring the employees feel valued contributes to retention efforts.

“We have to learn to ensure that our treatment of them is fair, it’s transparent and that they have a voice in the organization.”

The commission’s public safety committee is set to discuss the pay proposal during its Tuesday meeting. The full commission vote could come next week.


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