This article appears in the January 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
On Sept. 8, 2016, Gov. Nathan Deal announced a law enforcement reform package, which included salary increases of 20 percent for state law enforcement officers. This package was made effective on Jan. 1, 2017. As a follow-up, on May 24, 2017, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle announced the Compensation of Police and Sheriffs (COPS) Task Force to partner with local governments and law enforcement agencies to find a fiscally responsible path to increase compensation, benefits, and training for Georgia’s police officers, deputies and jailers.
Due to several factors including variances in population, size and fluctuating socio-economic conditions and local governments’ differences in terms of employment, capacity and economical ability, GMA believes that local law enforcement salaries should be determined by respective local governments.
This belief was expressed by the three GMA members to the COPS task force, Auburn Mayor Linda Blechinger, Royston Councilmember Keith Turman and Douglas City Manager Terrell Jacobs, appointed by Cagle.
The task force held five meetings and heard numerous presentations from experts including ones from GMA’s Senior Governmental Relations Associate Justin Kirnon and ACCG’s Debra Nesbitt, who provided information regarding the retirement plans offered to law enforcement officers by local governments across the state. After presentations and discussion, the task force made 17 recommendations, seven of which are included below with a direct impact on local governments. These recommendations could possibly shape legislation to be considered by the Georgia General Assembly this session.
- Members of the task force will propose legislation to amend the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) requirements for Qualified Local Government (QLG) Status to require local governments to:
- Perform wage and compensation evaluations of their own, and surrounding counties at least every five years.
- Adopt and maintain a compensation pay scale for their local law enforcement officers consisting of pay grades and pay steps with appropriate ranges of salaries for each category based on merit, training, longevity and local demographics. Reporting of this information to DCA will be required.
- If a government or agency refuses or fails to implement pay scales or perform compensation studies, they will lose QLG status and therefore no longer be eligible to receive state or federal grants, loans or reimbursement for training, education and travel.
- Appropriate a minimum of $7 million in state funds (to be increased if greater need is established) to be available for grants to assist local governments and sheriff’s offices with increased officer compensation. In doing so, procedures shall be put in place to ensure that grant funding shall be used solely for compensation and shall not be supplanted. DCA shall establish grant regulations to ensure that funds are prioritized for full service law enforcement agencies who:
- Demonstrate financial need due to a lack of local government revenue or tax base; and
- Demonstrate an effort to maximize the effectiveness of available resources.
- GMA and ACCG should study the impact of allowing local governments to channel a percentage of revenue received from local option sales taxes to law enforcement agencies or provide more flexibility with existing insurance premium revenue collected by local governments.
- GMA and ACCG should study the cost and impact of creating a transferrable retirement system for all certified local law enforcement personnel as well as jail and correctional staff. It is recommended that this be done in cooperation with the Peace Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund (POAB).
- GMA and ACCG should take steps to ensure that spouses of public safety officers who are killed in the line of duty receive compensation for the deceased officer’s accrued, unused leave, as well as any leave which would have accrued through the fiscal year of the officer’s death. If an officer is not married at time of his or her death, compensation should be paid to his or her estate.
- GMA and ACCG, along with the Georgia Public Safety Training Center (GPSTC) should perform research and analysis on key areas of liability facing local law enforcement agencies as well as any specific training that should be implemented in order to reduce the number of accidents that occur. Specific actions to be recommended to the Task Force in 2018.
- The Georgia Sheriffs Association and all local governments should work together to perform a review of unfunded state mandates affecting local law enforcement agencies.
- The task force should remain intact, and continue to meet throughout 2018.