Gwinnett chief: Low pay costing county officers

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GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. - Gwinnett County Police Chief Charlie Walters said his biggest challenge today is losing qualified officers.

Channel 2’s Kerry Kavanaugh reported earlier this week that frustration over pay is driving officers out of the county. Kavanaugh started investigating when several officers shared their complaints with her.

On Thursday, the chief raised the issue to the committee putting together the Gwinnett County budget for 2014.

"This challenge is probably the most daunting one that faces the Police Department right now,” Walters told Chairwoman Charlotte Nash and her 2014 citizen budget review team.

“We lost five in one day to Brookhaven. One day.”

Walters said other metro Atlanta police departments are recruiting his people and paying them more.

Kavanaugh pulled department numbers through an open records request.

The starting salary for new officers is $35,023. Experienced officers start slightly higher at $37,648.

In 2010, 21 officers resigned from the department. The number rose to 29 and 28 over the next two years. So far in 2013, 38 officers have resigned from the department.

"It takes five police officers to put one car on the street 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Walters said. "That is in fact seven police cars that we are missing off the street."

Walters said training just one new officer costs between $33,166 and $46,822 and takes close to a year.

"We've got to make this a preferred place for people to stay and work,” Walters said.

Nash told Kavanaugh it’s too early to even imply whether raises are possible for any county employee in 2014.

"We've got to figure out how to fit that within the revenues that are available,” Nash said. "You have information on police officers,” Nash said. “I suspect that some of those issues work across the organization as a whole."

It’s a concern that has be weighed with the county's new economic challenges, including state mandated changes to the juvenile justice system and rising health care costs.

Nash said implementing the Affordable Care Act will cost a minimum $2 million a year.

County budgets presentations continue through next Tuesday. The budget will be presented to the public in December.