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OUR VIEW: Law enforcement should not have to leave due to lack of pay

Last week, Chambers County Sheriff Sid Lockhart addressed the county commission with his concerns related to deputies leaving for other departments due to compensation.

Lockhart said at least one deputy will be leaving for Opelika due to the higher compensation.

“We can’t compete with Opelika/Auburn or Lee County, but I believe if we can get it up some, it will help us a little bit,” Lockhart said.

Chief Deputy Richard Carter said a Chambers County deputy who has not completed the academy earns $15.72 per hour. Once a deputy completes the academy, his or her compensation moves to $16.13 per hour.

We published compensation rates from other departments in the surrounding area and found that for the most part, yes, the CCSO is slightly underpaid to start.

In comparison, Valley Police Chief Tommy Weldon says an officer with the Valley Police Department would start at $15.96, but it would be more for an individual with prior military experience, higher education or strong work history. Jeremy Burkett with Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) said the salary range for a trooper is $36,657.60 – $55,615.20 annually. Based on a 40 hour work week, those salaries range from $17.62 per hour up to $26.74.

“Starting salaries will be adjusted based on education above the minimum completion of a two-year and four-year degree,” Burkett said.

Across the state line in Georgia, West Point Police Chief Donald Britt said the starting pay for the West Point Police Department is $35,560.69 or approximately $17.10 per hour. Troup County Manager Eric Mosley said a Troup County sheriff’s deputy starts at $17.53 per hour, and LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar said his department begins a recruit officer at $21.57 per hour. Dekmar said an officer pending the academy starts at a minimum of $15.30.

Lockhart pointed to one deputy who he knew was leaving for Opelika.

In Opelika, there are three levels for officers, according to Community Relations Specialist Allison Duke. An officer in training who is uncertified with no experience will earn $20.07, a certified officer with one year experience earns $21.41 and a certified officer with a minimum of three years experience earns $22.75 per hour.

“We can’t compete with Opelika/Auburn or Lee County, but I believe if we can get it up some, it will help us a little bit,” Lockhart said.

The help Lockhart is hoping for is in the form of a salary study that the county is currently having completed by Evergreen Solutions out of Tallahassee, Florida. Back in December, the county approved a consulting services agreement with Evergreen to perform a classification, compensation and benefits study.

Through that study, Evergreen plans to produce recommendations to the county for a classification and compensation system that is equitable, both internally and externally. The results of that study are expected to be concluded on or before June 1, according to the agreement signed on Dec. 29, 2020.

This study is not just to serve the sheriff’s office, but all county employees., but we will say that law enforcement personnel – especially those that are in constant contact with the community and face the dangers that go along with policing deserve a fair and just compensation package – whatever.

Lockhart also mentioned CCSO sends recruits to the academy to train and become a certified officer only to see them leave after a few years.

“We have several others that are looking, and most of them we’ve sent to the academy. So, you invest several $1,000 and they stay, you know, a few years and they’re gone,” Lockhart said.

Lockhart has a point, the county should be able to recoup what they spent training and not have to recycle recruits year after year.

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