It shouldn’t have to come to this.
If you’ve been listening to local radio lately, you might have heard a paid announcement from Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree imploring the Augusta Commission to consider raises for his officers.
We don’t blame Roundtree, but the commission should feel a bit sheepish. Richmond County’s chief law enforcement officer shouldn’t have to essentially shake a tin cup in public to rustle up the money his understaffed staff deserves.
Before the sheriff resorts to a GoFundMe campaign or lemonade stands, we’d urge the commission to knuckle down as they continue its 2018 budget sessions, and find at least some of the money Roundtree is asking for to better compensate the people who help protect us.
We referred to them as “his” officers, meaning Roundtree supervises them. But really they’re our officers – the citizens of Augusta. And Augusta is fortunate to have them.
What kind of service do you get for your law-enforcement dollar if you live in Augusta? You get selfless dedication from officers such as Sgt. Greg Meagher. He died during an emergency call in February 2017, after inhaling liquid nitrogen while trying to save an employee at a sperm bank where chemical tanks needed to be shut off.
Meagher also was shot in the face in 2004 while assisting federal agents in a Burke County drug sting. He spent a good part of his 33 years in law enforcement fighting the good fight in the war on illegal drugs. He even helped rush a woman in labor from a south Augusta restaurant to University Hospital.
Consider Meagher’s service record, and know this: For what we’re currently paying officers, Augusta is getting a bargain.
But it’s a bargain our officers don’t deserve to shoulder through their comparatively lower salaries.
The problem is twofold. Starting pay that’s too low won’t entice new officers to join. And veterans who don’t get deserved raises won’t be enticed to stay.
Many officers did get raises in 2015, but unfortunately Augusta still can’t seem to keep up with its neighbors.
In Augusta, an untrained new jailer starts at $32,098 a year, which rises to $33,457 after the employee completes jailer school. A certified deputy makes $34,884, and gets a bump to $37,630 after two years’ service. But that’s the only experience-based raise a Richmond officer gets.
Certified officers in neighboring Columbia and Aiken counties start out at higher salaries than their counterparts in Richmond. And those officers earn even higher salaries for earning college degrees.
Compared side by side, you can see why a Richmond County law officer would at least consider moving to a neighboring county with a lower crime rate, and for higher pay.
And that shouldn’t be allowed to happen.
With Augusta poised for growth in the next couple of years, the city can’t be caught unprepared, from a law enforcement standpoint, for the expected increased needs in public safety.
Even if the money has to be found a nickel and dime at a time, the city has to creatively but reliably find better recompense for the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to keep Augusta safe.