MARIETTA — Debate over how to staunch the county’s loss of public safety personnel has, to date, focused on carrots, rather than sticks, officials say; if officers are leaving for greener pastures, how can Cobb make itself a more attractive place to work?
County Chairman Mike Boyce said that approach would not, in the long run, solve the county’s problems. Calling it a “hamster wheel,” he asked lawmakers Thursday to change legislation that, he said, makes it easy for police departments to poach each other’s officers only two years after those officers complete their training.
Training new officers does not come cheaply, officials say. Recognizing this, state law requires departments to reimburse each other for poaching an officer who has served the department that trained him or her fewer than two years.
If an officer leaves within 15 months of completing training, her new department can be made to reimburse her former department the entire cost of her training. If an officer leaves after 15 months but before two years, the new department can be made to pay the former department half the cost of the officer’s training.
At the local lawmakers’ annual pre-legislative session meeting Thursday at Jim Miller Park, Boyce asked the Cobb delegation to increase that requirement from two to four years.
“Increasing the commitment to four years will allow us to benefit from our return on our investment (and) reduce personnel turbulence caused by officers looking for greener pastures,” he told the lawmakers.
Cobb’s training period, which lasts between a year and a year and a half, is twice that of other departments, said Steve Gaynor, president of the Cobb County Fraternal Order of Police Kermit C. Sanders Lodge #13, which represents more than 700 members of law enforcement.
“The agencies around us try to steal our people because they’re the best-trained,” Gaynor said, adding that it costs the county at least $80,000 to train a new recruit.
“You have city A and you have county B, and they’re just trading officers, but the pool of officers doesn’t increase,” Boyce said. “We’re just chasing a rabbit here, and we’re not really helping each other out by doing this.”
Cobb County Police Department Chief Tim Cox said officers with fewer than two years of experience rarely switch departments. And when they do, their former departments don’t often demand the compensation to which they’re entitled.
“I believe it has been done in the past,” Cox said. “It’s not something that is actively done by Cobb Police, at least while I’ve been working as deputy chief or chief.”
The county does, however, check with another department when it plans on hiring an officer with less than two years’ experience, just in case.
Most officers who transfer have between three and five years’ experience, he said, but is unsure to what degree a change in law would limit that.
“If it was raised to beyond two years, I think it could have an impact, how it would affect our department specifically would be hard to say at this time.”
State representatives said they were unfamiliar with the law.
State Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs, chairman of the Cobb Legislative Delegation, said he would have to talk to law enforcement officials before speaking on the issue. His colleague, Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, agreed.
“In my time in the Legislature I have focused heavily on public safety issues, and that’s something that I plan to continue doing,” Reeves said. “With that in mind, I’m more than happy to look into this issue.”