Law enforcement agencies supportive of proposed pay increases in SC

Published: Mar. 3, 2022 at 7:43 PM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Gov. Henry McMaster and other South Carolina leaders are making some budget recommendations that would mean higher salaries for state police agencies.

During a press conference on Thursday, leaders proposed increasing the minimum salary for state law enforcement officers to $43,500 - a 5% increase for officers at agencies currently below the new recommended minimum. This would apply for class one officers.

This proposal is outlined in The South Carolina Department of Administration’s “Law Enforcement Compensation Analysis” report. The report states the average starting salary for a certified officer across major South Carolina counties and municipalities is around $41,000 a year.

This data is why state leaders are recommending salary increases for state law enforcement officers.

“We extensively and comprehensively measured the pay of our officers and found, in many cases, that it was inadequate. They had not been complaining, but still, it was inadequate, and we are here to rectify that today,” McMaster said during the presser.

Police in our area say the proposed salary increase for state officers is a big win for law enforcement agencies because it sends a vital message to pay officers more for their work.

John Jones, executive director for The South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers’ Association and South Carolina Police Chiefs Association, says there are thousands of vacancies for police officers statewide.

“We’re estimating at 4,000 vacancies for law enforcement in our state. That’s a number I haven’t heard in my 26 years and it’s got to be addressed, we have to do something,” Jones said.

Jones, a 26-year veteran of law enforcement, feels raising the salaries for state police is a step in the right direction towards filling those jobs.

He said this will likely send a message to local municipalities to pay their officers more.

“I’m hoping other agencies will follow suit, cities and counties,” Jones said. “I hope they see the state recognized we’re underpaid. We need to bring the salaries up. Municipal and county governments, hopefully, will start addressing the problem. Law enforcement is way underpaid in the state of South Carolina. Way underpaid. Some of them can go to other states and make more money and some of them are doing it.”

Agencies in the Grand Strand and Pee Dee are also taking a look at officer pay.

City of Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea said city leaders are aware of competing salaries and are working on compensation study of their own.

“Which likely will result in increases in next years budget,” Kruea said.

Myrtle Beach Police Department MCpl. Tom Vest said the MBPD has several vacancies to fill, and they want to do all they can to attract qualified applicants to those positions.

And that could boil down to pay.

“We’re all fighting over the same pool of highly qualified personnel and pay is a huge component of that,” Vest said. “Our starting pay for uncertified is $41,500. The pay is a huge thing for us and hopefully we can continue to work on that and recruit and retain the best personnel for our community.”

Other Grand Strand agencies are also currently looking to fill positions.

“We’re not immune from it,” said Georgetown County Sheriff Carter Weaver. “Right now, we’re a few sworn officers short. We have a large need for correctional officers. You can drive down any road in any county in the state and see where people are hiring for all types of work and law enforcement is not immune to that.”

Weaver added that he’s on board with the governor pushing for higher wages on the state level, because he feels it could trickle down to local leaders taking similar actions.

“I think the state sees a surplus in revenues this year they can possibly earmark for law enforcement,” he said. “That also should mean counties should see an increase in revenues possibly from the state this year they hopefully they can earmark for law enforcement. The only way we’re going to have true public safety is to ensure we have qualified applicants and that we pay them appropriately. Salaries need to keep up with other markets around us or agencies that we compete with. "

In the Pee Dee, the Marion Police Department is also in need of more officers.

“We’re just not getting any applicants right now,” said Lt. Tony Flowers. “We’re at about 75% staffing, we normally run 85-90%.”

Flowers said pay increases are always good to attract workers, but he says their agency is facing unique challenges with that option.

“The problem we have in Marion County and in the City of Marion is the revenue base,” he said. “We don’t have the revenue to increase salaries. As far as a department our size, we’re competitive with all the surrounding counties that are our size. But when you get to Florence and Horry County, we can’t compete with that so we don’t get a lot of applicants.”

Flowers says the range for an entry-level officer position with their department is in the low $30,000′s.

“I think the leaders in our area are doing all they can do. I think we’re just kind of caught between the tourism of Horry and Florence County, with the interstates running through there, that’s more attractive then us being in Marion County when we don’t have an interstate running through here right now. It’s just easier to access for those two counties,” he said.

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