GBI urges lawmakers to fund pay increase

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ATLANTA — The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is long used to losing agents to better-paying federal agencies. But when officers began bolting for other state offices and even local police departments, the agency started raising a fuss.

Faced with the threat of losing more veteran agents, the GBI is rallying this year to convince lawmakers to give them their first raise since a 2 percent cost of living increase in 2008. Their goal is to achieve parity with Georgia State Patrol officers, who can make $15,000 more each year than their counterparts at the GBI.

So far the effort has paid off, as House lawmakers included more than $2.4 million in the budget that passed Wednesday to boost the pay of agents and scientists to match trooper salaries. Those raises would be phased in over three years. Senate leaders didn’t comment on the proposal, but GBI agents are optimistic the funding will be included in that chamber’s budget.

The pay gap has long been a source of frustration for GBI officials. For example, a Georgia State Patrol sergeant earns $58,762, compared to a GBI special agent 3, a similar rank, who earns $43,063.

The agency had hoped to receive a salary boost in 2009, but it was scrapped in the final version of the budget. Since then, 72 agents and scientists who cost $5 million to train have left the agency, said Jamy Steinberg, the president of the GBI’s Fraternal Order of Police lodge.

“We were losing some of the younger ones,” said Steinberg. “But if you lose someone who has 18 years of experience and is leaving for as little as $5,000, it’s tough. You can replace some of the people but you can’t replace the talent.”

GBI Director Vernon Keenan said at a recent House committee meeting that the pay gap is starting to take a toll on morale. He said the turnover among GBI agents and scientists hovers at about 10 percent a year, and he fears it will only increase. Some 28 agents with more than a decade of experience have left in the past four years, he said.

Instead of a career destination, he said, his agency is slowly becoming the training ground for federal and even local departments.

“We’re losing agents going to be traffic cops because they make more money working traffic than they will as a criminal investigator for the state of Georgia,” Keenan said. “We have the best trained criminal investigators in the country. They do complex work. But they’re getting very tired. They’re worn out.”

Some state lawmakers say they saw this coming when the State Patrol was given the raise several years ago but the GBI wasn’t. State Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, said he wants legislators to review how all law enforcement agencies get paid to help reach a more even footing.

“When something is done on one year, it needs to be done on all of them,” he said. “Because this hasn’t done anything good for morale.”

In the meantime, though, veteran agents hope the pay increases can stem the tide.

“The GBI is very good at hiring good people with the desire and motivation to do this job. They make sacrifices and are often away from their families,” GBI Special Agent Mark McDaniel said. “Here’s what I’m afraid of: With inexperienced investigators, the quality of the investigation may suffer if something is not done to remedy this situation.”

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csraguy 03/11/12 - 01:30 am
Law enforcement in general is

Law enforcement in general is underpaid. Law enforcement pay in the south is deplorable. However, when you have an agency that does not even match comparable agencies within the same states/areas you are doomed for failure, your turnover rate will be high and morale will be low. In the long run, the costs of training increase as do other related expenses.

The GBI needs these pay raises just to bring their salaries to comparable decent levels of other state agencies. Likewise, the RCSO needs to greatly adjust the pay of their deputies to match similar departments within Georgia. It is even more important for a local agency to retain employees in order to have continuity within their agency, well trained officers who know the area and the people living in the community, etc. When an agency has one of the lowest pay rates combined with terrible benefits, minimal training opportunities, no pay increase for college or any advanced level of law enforcement training and furlough days, you are not considered “the agency to work for”, instead you are a stepping stone until a better offer comes along.

Just as the legislature needs to correct the pay issues with the GBI, the Richmond County commission needs to correct the pay & benefit issues for the RCSO and properly fund training opportunities.

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