DeKalb CEO proposes pay raise for 2,300 public safety employees

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond speaks Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, at a press conference to announce his proposal for 4% raises for public safety personnel in the county. TYLER ESTEP / TYLER.ESTEP@AJC.COM

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DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond speaks Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, at a press conference to announce his proposal for 4% raises for public safety personnel in the county. TYLER ESTEP / TYLER.ESTEP@AJC.COM

DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond announced Thursday a plan to give raises to a wide-ranging group of public safety personnel.

The proposed 4% pay bumps would cover approximately 2,300 county employees — everyone from police and firefighters to probation and code enforcement officers.

“This is a holistic approach to helping DeKalb become a safe, secure community,” Thurmond said following a press conference in which he was flanked by law enforcement officials.

DeKalb County, like many large juridictions across metro Atlanta and the country, has often struggled to recruit and retain public safety personnel. Generally speaking, smaller agencies can be more nimble and offer better pay.

There's added pressure in a place like DeKalb, where many crime statistics are down but a new annual homicide record was set before Halloween.

Multiple DeKalb leaders — including new Sheriff Melody Maddox and new police Chief Mirtha V. Ramos — said Thursday that the proposed pay increases were both a sign of appreciation and a positive step toward addressing attrition issues.

“It allows us to compete with … and keep in line with other agencies,” said Maddox, a former chief deputy who was sworn in Dec. 1.

Ramos, who joined DeKalb PD in November after a long career in Miami, said the raises will help alleviate financial stress for existing officers and make them more likely to stay.

“If we can bring them in and keep them in, then we can start winning the game,” she said. “But if we’re bringing two in and losing three, then we’re not really making any headway.”

In addition to employees more typically thought of as public safety personnel, Thurmond’s proposed raises would cover folks like animal control officers, security technicians and investigators with the district attorney, solicitor general and medical examiner’s offices.

The raises would cost a total of about $5.4 million, a figure Thurmond said will be workable without having to tap into the county’s reserve funds.

The funding will have to be approved by DeKalb’s Board of Commissioners. Thurmond said he’s confident the support will be there — and he’s urging the commission to act on the raises this month so they would go into effect during the first pay period of 2020.

“This is just a small token of what I would like to see continually happen over the course of the next few years,” Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson said Thursday.