Deal calls for boosting police salaries, training

Cleveland — Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday he was considering a legislative package that could include more pay for state police officers as well as a new training regimen for law enforcement authorities in the aftermath of violence and unrest in the nation’s streets.

Speaking after a criminal justice panel in Cleveland, Deal said Georgia needs to open a discussion with lawmakers about rewarding police officers for their work but also ensuring they get more sensitivity training to handle a new wave of protests.

“When you ask somebody to put on a uniform, to put on a bulletproof vest, to put them in situations that most of us would not want to go in no matter what, we owe it to them to make sure we do everything we can to protect them, provide them with the kind of under-girding support,” Deal said.

He said in an interview that his discussions are in the early stages, and that he would soon reach out to lawmakers and other community leaders to craft the policies.

“It will be across-the-board showing appreciation and support for our law enforcement community, but at the same time making sure we address some of the concerns that we need to address,” Deal said. “We need to make sure that law enforcement officers being trained by the state have included in that training sensitivity to communities, and how to deal with [a] difficult situation within a community context.”

Deal wasn’t prepared to discuss more details of the plan, noting several times that he had yet to outline his views with legislative leaders, whose support he will need to fund the raises. It was not clear whether the proposed program would extend beyond state law enforcement agencies to local police departments.

Deal’s comments come after days of protests in Atlanta and other cities following the shooting deaths of unarmed black men by police – and the assassinations of police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas.

Attorney Lance LoRusso, a former police officer and current general counsel to the Georgia Fraternal Order of Police, said he was encouraged by Deal’s statement and eager to learn details.

“Obviously everybody’s in favor of officers getting more pay,” he said. “I would want to know what this training is. Everybody’s always in favor of training as long as it’s realistic training based on the situations officers are receiving.”

LoRusso suggested additional training to help officers recognize and address mental illness would be helpful. However, he expressed puzzlement at the governor’s support for “sensitivity training,” saying that police are already trained to deal with different communities.

“I think those buzzwords are used [even though] law enforcement has been doing that stuff, so I don’t really know how to react to that,” LoRusso said. “That’s part of the problem, we’re dealing with this rhetoric where we have people saying we ought to have officers going out in the community, and they’ve been doing that since the ’60s.”

Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves, a supporter of police and criminal justice reform, said sensitivity training was “crucial” to restoring trust between law enforcement and communities of color.

“I applaud the governor for taking this first step and even if it’s limited [to state agencies] the signal should be directed to local governments at the county and city level,” Eaves said. “It’s clear that all people have some degree of hidden bias, and good sensitivity training, thorough sensitivity training, at a minimum, allows us to have those biases exposed, and even better training helps us come up with techniques to make sure we make race neutral decisions.”

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