Editor’s note: The following is an open letter from Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes.
My fellow Liberty County residents,
As your sheriff, I’ve never written a letter to the editor of our local newspaper on any topic until now. I choose to now because I passionately believe the subject matter is paramount. I can say this with absolute certainty because it affects all of us in one way or another. I am asking you to help all of the deputy sheriffs in the state of Georgia.
We are living in unprecedented times as law enforcement officers. Unfortunately, routine stops and common calls have frequently turned into ambushes and random executions for no other reason than a choice to serve and protect. In 2016 there were 140 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in this country. Of those deaths, 106 men and women were local county/city police and deputy sheriffs, 19 were state officers, six were federal officers, and nine were college or transit officers.
While the loss of 140 officers’ lives in a year is, unfortunately, not that unusual, I would like to share some facts that are staggering. Of those 140 officers, 65 died as a result of gunfire. This is a 69 percent increase from 2015. Of the 65 killed by gunmen last year, 21 of those officers were ambushed. Georgia ended 2016 ranked 4th in the nation in line of duty deaths. So far this year, 118 men and women have lost their lives in the line of duty and this number is sure to increase substantially with the holiday season upon us. To say that those in our profession are on edge more than ever would be an understatement.
As a sheriff, one of my biggest challenges has been having the ability to hire and retain qualified officers. This is a systematic problem throughout the state of Georgia and one that is demanding more and more attention with every day. In many Georgia counties, the trend has been for the very best officers to receive their training and qualifications only to leave local law enforcement agencies after a few short years for higher pay and better benefits with state and federal agencies. I don’t have to tell you as taxpayers how unfair it is for you to repeatedly pay the costs associated with a high turnover rate and constant training of new officers.
As you have most likely heard by now, Gov. Deal announced last September that ALL state law enforcement personnel would receive a 20 percent increase in pay. The salary increases put starting pay for a new Georgia State Trooper at $46,422 a year. There are three pay levels of "Trooper" that go up to $61,825 a year before even being promoted to the rank of corporal. Let me be very clear, I absolutely support these officers receiving a raise and believe they are worth every penny. The problem I have is with the average compensation of a local Georgia Deputy Sheriff or a local city police officer, which at $29,900 a year, is often not enough to support a family. Many of my deputies have second jobs to make ends meet and I personally find this heartbreaking and unacceptable.
Georgia Sheriffs are going to be seeking the enactment of legislation this year which will mandate that all full-time, certified peace officers be paid, at a minimum, the beginning salary of a Georgia State Patrol Officer. This is not just a local matter and must be addressed at all levels. Let me reiterate, it has become increasingly difficult to hire and retain officers at the local level and if this crisis is not addressed soon, there will be dire results to the safety of the public. We never close, and when you call 911, local deputies and city officers respond to your calls. Simply put, we need your help.
Please join me and Rep. Al Williams at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12 at the John D. McIver Auditorium on 9397 East Oglethorpe Highway, Midway, GA 31320 for a Lunch and Learn study committee to learn more about the benefits of state funded compensation for local Officers. The event is free and open to the public but seating is limited. Please RSVP to the Sheriff’s Department at 912-876-2131 by Dec. 8.
Sheriff Steve Sikes