Abrams pitches pay hikes for corrections officers, state Troopers

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA - JUNE 11, 2022: Gubernatorial candidate  Stacey Abrams, right, speaks during the Georgia School Board Association Summer conference in Savannah. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for the AJC

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for the AJC

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA - JUNE 11, 2022: Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, right, speaks during the Georgia School Board Association Summer conference in Savannah. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Stacey Abrams wants to give a significant pay hike to corrections officers, community supervision officials and Georgia State Patrol troopers if elected governor, part of a public safety plan that also calls for a revamp of police training to address an “erosion of trust.”

The Democrat’s package unveiled Thursday would raise the base salary of those officers to roughly $50,000 over a two-year period. It promises another $25 million in direct grants to local law enforcement agencies to help finance pay hikes and defray housing costs for staffers.

She announced the plan as Gov. Brian Kemp and his Republican allies step up efforts to paint Abrams and other Democrats as soft on crime. Kemp’s campaign launched a TV ad Wednesday framing her as a supporter of the defund the police movement, an idea Abrams said she rejects.

Abrams said the pay hike would “improve recruitment and retention efforts while also improving community interactions with those who keep us safe.” New training standards, she added, would build community trust “without returning to failed policies or raising taxes.”

Her campaign projects her law enforcement proposal will cost more than $180 million over two years to raise the salaries of the officers covered by her plan by roughly $10,000 to $12,000 per staffer.

It was rolled out days after Abrams unveiled a $1.65 billion plan to hike the minimum salary of Georgia public school teachers to $50,000 a year, which would lift their pay by $11,000 annually over four years.

Her proposal evokes memories of a broader plan by then-Gov. Nathan Deal in 2016 to hike the pay of state law enforcement officers by 20%, a move that bolstered the morale of the beneficiaries but left many county and city officers feeling ostracized.

Gov. Nathan Deal last year with a law enforcement backdrop announcing he wanted to give a 20 percent pay hike to state officers, a move that has a domino effect with other departments. Photo by Bob Andres

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According to Abrams’ campaign, the starting pay is $38,040 for a correctional officer, $37,730 for a juvenile justice correctional officer and $39,671 for a community supervision officer.

Starting pay for State Patrol officers is $40,080 for cadets, though the base salary rises to more than $52,000 for those who attend or complete Trooper school.

She would also expand mental health training and require local departments seeking increased state funding to adopt updated use-of-force and de-escalation strategies. Abrams said her administration would work with state police officials to “fortify” those standards.

And she’d create a statewide database of law enforcement officers repeatedly dismissed for violating standards to help agencies “make informed hiring decisions,” aiming to prevent troubled officers who are perennial offenders from landing new jobs.

It’s a part of a broader plan that calls for the repeal of Republican-backed gun expansions and seeks to revive a criminal justice council that developed legislation diverting nonviolent offenders away from prison sentences and toward treatment programs.

The governor hasn’t yet outlined new criminal justice policies for a second term. But Kemp has engineered several pay hikes for law enforcement, including a $5,000 raise for all state employees last year.

He used federal coronavirus relief funds this year to finance a $1,000 bonus for law enforcement and first responders. And he signed a $75 million tax credit championed by Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan to aid law enforcement.

Kemp’s campaign responded Thursday to the proposed pay hike by calling for Abrams to quit the board of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, a Seattle-based organization that has amplified social media posts that promote the defunding of police agencies.

“If Abrams truly cares about keeping Georgia families safe,” said spokesman Tate Mitchell, “she should resign from this board immediately.”