Opinion: Ga. police deserve pay above, beyond
Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin made the right choice in proposing a 3.5 percent raise for police officers to keep them from leaving the city's payroll. That's on top of a cost-of-living increase.
City Council members should support the mayor's decision to use surplus funds where they are most needed, in the Atlanta Police Department, even though it means ignoring the howls of protest from firefighters that they, too, deserve an increase in pay.
As Franklin points out, the city is losing police officers almost as fast as it hires them. Despite efforts to expand the force, Atlanta has 145 vacancies in a department with 1,641 officers.
The Atlanta Police Department pays a higher starting salary than agencies in other major metro counties, but loses its advantage as officers gain experience. Pay increases that usually come with seniority have been frozen, making a switch from the Atlanta department to other law enforcement agencies more appealing as time passes.
Make no mistake, Atlanta's firefighters are valued public servants. But the city has a harder time holding onto police than it does firefighters. And as Franklin told Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters, "There's nothing inherent about everybody making the same amount of money." (For example, firefighters in Atlanta start at $34,563 a year, below the $37,252 paid beginning police officers.)
This year's controversy is nothing new. Each year, when the subject of pay raises come up, firefighters object to getting a smaller raise than police officers. Last year they persuaded the City Council to go along with their demands for pay raise parity.
This year, the City Council should hold fast. After all, it's not as if firefighters will get nothing extra this year. They'll receive the same 3.7 percent cost-of-living increase in July that city police officers do, which is more of an increase than many of the taxpayers who pay their salaries are likely to receive.
--- David McNaughton, for the editorial board (firstname.lastname@example.org)
* EQUAL TIME: For another perspective on this issue, see the next page, A17
POLICE PAY COMPARED
....................starting wage ......wage
Atlanta ..............$37,252 ........$54,398
Cobb County ..........$34,673 ........$52,020
DeKalb County ........$34,428*........$57,144
Gwinnett County ......$33,197*........$46,545
* Does not include available incentives.
Sources: City, county government
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