Thousands of Georgia officers qualify for food stamps, study says

About 1,600 Georgia police officers and another 1,600 bailiffs, jailers and correctional officers are paid so little that they've qualified for food stamps, a study says.

The Georgia Sheriffs Association wants to fix that by raising the starting pay of all police officers and sheriff’s deputies in the state to $46,000. That’s where the state has set the starting salary for state troopers, a 20 percent raise after years of paying them miserable wages.

The problem: most cops and deputies are paid by their local city or county government, not by the state. And most city councils and county commissioners are more frightened of raising taxes than they are of facing a group of armed and unhappy people.

The starting pay for Georgia State Patrol officers rose to $46,422 with the pay hike backed by Gov. Nathan Deal in 2016. Sheriffs contend it's hard to compete for top talent when, according to the Georgia Sheriffs' Association, the average starting salary for a deputy doesn't reach $30,000.

Statewide, deputy starting pay is just over $29,000. According to the state Department of Community Affairs, the bottom 19 counties average $25,500 when it comes to starting pay for deputies. But in Irwin and Jenkins counties, both below the Gnat Line, the figure is $20,800 a year.

The federal poverty level for a family of three is an income of $20,420 or less.

The pay, along with the dangers of the job, have created some recruiting issues for local departments. Many are going across the country to fill open positions.

Channel 2 Action News did some research and found the starting salaries of several local departments:

Alpharetta Police Department: $40,425

Atlanta Police Department: $40,000

Athens-Clarke County Police Department: $36,669

Chamblee Police Department: $39,807

Clarke County Sheriff's Office: $36,669

Clayton County Police Department: $41,545

Cobb County Police Department: $40,014

DeKalb County Police Department: $37,956

East Point Police Department: $38,934

Forest Park Police Department: $36,753

Fulton County Police Department: $41,269

Fulton County Sheriff's Office: $44,336

Gwinnett County Police Department: $36,074

Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office: $34,028

Henry County Police Department: $36,524

Marietta Police Department: $36,483

Milton Police Department: $41,490

Oconee County Sheriff's Office: $35,000

Paulding County Sheriff's Office: $36,210

Sandy Springs Police Department: $43,150

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this report.