Law officers protect our backs each day - it's time we protect theirs

Usually I ignore all those dressed-up inspirational quotes everyone seems to post on social media. But I came across one I happen to agree with:

 

“A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected.”

You can apply that to pretty much any profession, but especially law enforcement.

 

MORE AND MORE OFFICERS aren’t feeling appreciated. Too many are realizing that they likely are going to toil for several years earning low wages and accruing less-than-attractive benefits.

And oh, by the way, there’s the heightened chance of getting injured or killed at work. Every day.

It’s one of the most stressful, dangerous and underappreciated professions you can enter.

And gosh, who would have guessed? Fewer folks are applying for the job, opting for something with higher pay and less danger.

It’s a nationwide problem. “You can get shot at for $40,000, or be home with your family for $60,000,” Seattle Police Department recruiter Jim Ritter explained to ABC News last July.

Actually, in Georgia, $40,000 starts to look good. Starting pay for pretty much any county deputy statewide is not too far above $30,000. It varies county to county, but not much.

It’s no better for the Georgia State Patrol. One recent nationwide ranking of state police starting pay placed Georgia dead last. In California, a highway patrol officer can start at $74,700 a year. Texas’ starting highway patrol officers lead all Southern states at $60,613.

A Georgia trooper? Try $35,741. That’s unforgivable.

To find out more, I reached out to one of my high-school classmates – Derick Durden. For you trivia buffs, he might be the tallest captain in the Georgia State Patrol. He’s also the commander of the GSP’s Troop E, which covers 20 counties, including Richmond and Columbia.

And he can tell you firsthand how the GSP is suffering.

 

LOW PAY IS JUST one problem. Several troopers under Capt. Durden’s command spend their off-duty time working other jobs.

And that’s among the officers who stay. Others simply leave. In fiscal year 2015, the GSP lost 52 troopers. Since last July, Capt. Durden said, 64 troopers have left.

So why not just hire more? It’s not that simple.

The GSP also struggles to compete. The state’s pay and benefits don’t look so good these days to a gradually shrinking pool of applicants who meet the qualifications even to become a trooper cadet. Applicants simply go where benefits are better.

“Becoming a Georgia state trooper is not an easy task,” Capt. Durden said. “In a previous assignment, I served as the agency training director for five years and was responsible for the training of trooper cadets for seven trooper schools during my tenure. Trooper school is eight months long and very demanding, physically and mentally. Not everyone can be a trooper. Of those who make it through our stringent hiring process and are selected for trooper school, usually only 50 percent graduate.”

So they can earn the princely sum of $35,741 a year.

Realistically, the state can’t lower standards to get more troopers, because that aggravates yet another problem facing the GSP. The agency is seeing a rise in disciplinary problems among their newest troopers.

 

CAPT. DURDEN added something else: Law enforcement is being publicly viewed under an increasingly harsh microscope.

FBI Director James Comey told The New York Times that last October – that “additional scrutiny and criticism of police officers” is harming law enforcement.

Certainly officers deserve public scrutiny like any other government employee or elected official – but not to an extreme that drives potentially qualified officers away from the profession.

When you’re losing troopers at double or triple the rate that you can successfully train them, that’s a critical problem that cries out for an immediate solution.

Retaining troopers also makes sound business sense. The state invests about $122,000 into training and equipping every single trooper. So every time a trooper leaves, that’s public money down the drain.

If you’re a taxpayer, you should be outraged.

Georgia Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mark W. McDonough appeared in January before the Public Safety Subcommittee for the Georgia House Appropriations Committee. He asked for any funds freed up through attrition to be used to fund future trooper schools.

The GSP is authorized to have 953 officers. As of last month, Georgia has only 770 – the lowest number in more than a decade.

With circumstances this dire, Col. McDonough shouldn’t have to sit before a board of politicians, shaking a tin cup asking for funding. They should be coming to him, asking: What do you need, and how fast can we give it to you?

 

AS A GEORGIA citizen, do you really appreciate having such a low price placed on your public safety?

Law Enforcement Appreciation Day is March 2 at the Georgia Capitol. A splendid way to mark it is if lawmakers can successfully work to give certified peace officers competitive paychecks and benefits that are much closer to what they deserve.

 

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