ATLANTA – A legislative study committee voted Tuesday to recommend paying Georgia law enforcement officers a starting salary of $56,000 a year, the national average.

The House State and Local Law Enforcement Salaries Study Committee also proposed that the state create an optional statewide law enforcement retirement system retiring law enforcement officers and firefighters could choose to join rather than their local agency’s pension plan. Unlike local plans, the state plan would be transferable should the individual join another police agency or fire department.

At previous meetings earlier this fall, the committee heard representatives of state and local law enforcement agencies call for higher pay and benefits to make it easier to recruit and retain officers and investigators.

“Nationally, Georgia ranks sixth lowest in police salaries. That’s terrible,” Rep. Clint Crowe, R-Jackson, a former police officer, said Tuesday. “We’re losing numbers everywhere. … We’ve got to do some things to make folks want to stay in this profession.”

The $56,000 salary figure came from a presentation during an earlier meeting by Butch Ayers, executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police. It was amended onto the study committee’s final report by Rep. Yasmin Neal, D-Jonesboro, also a former police officer, after the original version of the report made no mention of a specific salary goal.

“That’s the purpose of this committee. They’re looking for a number,” Neal said. “If you don’t give people somewhere to start, we’re leaving it up in the air.”

Besides the salary recommendation and statewide retirement system plan, the panel’s report also encourages the University System of Georgia to create a bachelor’s degree program in law enforcement and increase the number of public colleges and universities that accept Georgia Public Safety Training Center coursework toward degree credits.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.