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Big raise on the way for state law enforcement officers

Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal announced at the state Capitol on Thursday a plan to give 20 percent raises to law enforcement officers who work for state agencies, and to offer more training to all officers in Georgia. He said they have a job that is getting more difficult.
Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal announced at the state Capitol on Thursday a plan to give 20 percent raises to law enforcement officers who work for state agencies, and to offer more training to all officers in Georgia. He said they have a job that is getting more difficult.

Georgia’s state troopers, GBI agents and other law enforcement officers who work at state agencies are set to get a 20 percent raise as part of a plan proposed by Gov. Nathan Deal.

The plan also includes more training for officers across the state.

Officers face uncertainty and danger in jobs that have become more dangerous and difficult over the years, the governor said at a formal announcement of his plan Thursday.

“The thanks they receive has not kept pace,” Deal said.

A few hundred GBI workers, troopers, game wardens and other law enforcement officers gathered on the steps and in the galleries of a Capitol lobby to hear Deal’s remarks.

When he announced the 20 percent figure, the applause was long and loud.

GBI Special Agent Blair Sasnett came up from the Perry field office for the announcement and to hear the thanks that Deal and other elected officials offered.

Sasnett said he and his colleagues knew there was some big news coming, but they weren’t told the details ahead of time.

The raise, he said, will be great.

“We’ve always got people leaving to go to federal law enforcement. I think this’ll retain agents and create a better hiring pool for our agency,” the agent said.

Sasnett isn’t the only law enforcement officer who’s watched people leave state agencies or apply for jobs in other states. Pay is a common complaint; some state trooper posts struggle to keep enough staff to work accidents in a timely manner. Deal called the raise “overdue.

He said it is incumbent on the state to recruit and retain the best and brightest and give them the tools they need for a job that requires them to be many things — minister and diplomat, social worker and tough guy.

The proposed raise will apply to more than 3,300 law enforcement officers who get their paychecks from the state. It would be effective Jan. 1, 2017, even before the state Legislature has the chance to approve the measure. The cost will be nearly $79 million in the first 18 months, Deal estimated.

For comparison, the state’s total budget this year is about $20 billion.

The state Legislature looks likely to give the necessary formal approval for the raises in two budget bills early next year. The GOP controls both the state House and Senate, and top Republicans shared the stage with Deal to offer their praises of law enforcement.

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said he and other top House Republicans endorse Deal’s proposal.

Deal also proposed an “overhaul” in training for all officers who have the power to make arrests: state officers plus those employed by cities, counties and school systems.

Under the plan, all those officers would be required to take additional continuing education courses on topics including the use of force, effective policing and building positive relationships with their communities.

“We have seen in cities across the country the need to foster and strengthen the ties of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” Deal said.

More officers — both state and local — would also get the chance to take training on how to deal with people who have mental illnesses in a way that’s safe for both the officer and the person as well. About 9,500 officers have already taken what’s called crisis intervention training. It teaches things such as telling the difference between someone who’s high or drunk and someone who is mentally ill, and how best to respond to each.

Deal’s office is working to make the training changes happen in the coming months. It will require some rule changes that can be done by state agencies themselves, but part of the proposal may also require lawmakers’ approval.

The final part of the plan, Deal said, is a plan to set up a task force in his office to review officer training and recommend improvements. That’s something he can set up on his own through executive order.

Maggie Lee: @maggie_a_lee

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