04/19/2006

New Ga. law gives black officers access to retirement fund

By ERRIN HAINES
Associated Press Writer

ATLANTA- Gov. Sonny Perdue signed legislation Tuesday granting compensation to black Georgia police officers who were barred under a Jim Crow-era law from taking part in a state pension fund.

The new measure allows current law enforcement employees to buy into the Peace Officers Annuity and Benefit Fund for service before 1976 _ the year the program was desegregated _ by paying $10 a month for each year of their service, with the state matching their contributions.

It is unclear how many state and local officers are eligible or will apply, or how much the measure might cost the state.

"Georgia recognizes the fact that it has a responsibility to address the matter and make these officers whole as much as humanly possible," said state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, the author of the legislation.

However, officers who have already retired are still not eligible to receive benefits for service before 1976. Proposed legislation to change that stalled during the legislative session that ended March 30.

Brooks said he will make the issue his top priority next year if he wins re-election.

Brooks took up the cause six years ago after being approached by several veteran officers, many of whom provided his security during his 26 years as a state representative. He said he was sickened to learn that people he regarded as heroes and law enforcement pioneers were treated so badly.

"Many of them swallowed their pride to go out and do the job they were sworn to do in spite of segregation. They deserve more than we can ever do for them," Brooks said.

Johnnie P. Jones, 85, of Savannah, the only surviving member of the Magnificent Eight, the first black officers to join the Atlanta Police Department, said all black officers _ retired or not _ should be eligible for the benefits.

"Maybe it's something I should've gotten when I was there, something I should've been able to get into during that time," Jones said.

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