Hello fellow Georgians, I live in a fine community where it is quite common for citizens to approach me and ask what they can do to help us. I know police officers don’t always have such a relationship with the people they serve and I am most grateful for support like this, especially these days. I am about to ask you to help me and the entire deputy sheriffs and city police in this state.
My career in law enforcement has now spanned 43 years, and I began my sixth term in office as the sheriff of Putnam County two days ago. I have seen and been part of phenomenal changes in this profession over the years, but I regretfully now clearly recognize that we have reached a crisis point for law enforcement in our country of which the average citizen is just unaware.
In 2016 there were 140 law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty in this country. Of these deaths, 106 men and women were local city/county police and deputy sheriffs, 19 were state officers, six were federal officers and the remaining nine were territory, college or transit officers.
The loss of 140 officers’ lives in a year is unfortunately not unusual. What is different is the fact that 65 of those officers died as a result of gunfire, which represents 69% increase in such cases from 2015. This is not something that is just occurring in the big cities. In the last two months alone there have been 9 officers shot within 100 miles of where I’m sitting and five of them were killed. Georgia ended 2016 ranking fourth in the nation of line duty deaths.
Even more unusual this year are the occurrences of officers being ambushed simply because they are police. Of the 65 killed by gunmen last year, 21 of the officers were ambushed. This is the first time in my career that I can ever remember officers being shot as they sat in their cars or fired upon when they arrived on the scene of a bogus call. This is genuinely unprecedented in our history, and everyone in our profession is on edge and worried as never before.
As a sheriff, my single biggest difficulty has been the inability to hire and retain qualified officers. This is not unique to Putnam County, but a systemic problem throughout Georgia law enforcement. Our very best officers almost always leave local law enforcement agencies after a few years and go on to better pay and benefits with state and federal agencies. The Georgia Sheriffs’ Association did a survey last November with 76 of the 159 sheriffs reporting that they had lost more than 500 of their deputies to state law enforcement agencies over the last 10 years. I remind you those figures came from less than half of the sheriffs and didn’t include the number of officers who left city agencies for state jobs. City and county law enforcement agencies have truly become nothing more than training grounds for our state law enforcement agencies. The constant costs associated with this turnover and training can hardly be quantified, and it is patently unfair for the local taxpayers to repeatedly foot this bill.
Our plight of hiring and retaining personnel was exponentially exacerbated last September when Governor Deal announced that ALL state law enforcement personnel would be receiving a 20% increase in pay. Let me be very clear here, I absolutely support those officers getting a raise and think they deserve it. On the other hand though, if the state officers deserve a 20% increase, local city and county officers deserve the same increase if not more.