Most Brookhaven police officers will get a significant pay increase in April as the city tries to ward off competition from big raises on the Atlanta and DeKalb County forces.

The new pay ranges for officers, sergeants and lieutenants, approved by the City Council Jan. 22, will boost the minimum salary by about 13 percent and the maximum by about 6 percent. That means the lowest pay for a rookie officer will jump from $42,406 to $48,500. And officers already on the force will get a raise based on their years of experience in policing.

The raises are projected to cost the city nearly $700,000 in 2019’s budget – about $570,000 more than was budgeted for regular merit-based pay increases.

“The improving economy, combined with high-profile national events of police officers being targeted, have drastically increased the challenges to recruit and retain police officers,” wrote City Manager Christian Sigman in a memo to Mayor John Ernst and the City Council, backing Police Chief Gary Yandura’s call for pay raises.

In a recent staff memo, Yandura said the Brookhaven Police Department’s current pay structure was significantly lower than those of forces in Atlanta, DeKalb and Sandy Springs, and outpaced Johns Creek on the higher end but not on starter salaries. Especially concerning was a recent 30 percent Atlanta Police pay raise and a similar DeKalb boost – departments that, Brookhaven officials estimate, have more than 500 vacant police positions to fill.

The Brookhaven increase is intended to essentially match the Atlanta Police pay, and will take effect at roughly the same time, in April, when part of the Atlanta raises kick in.

Officer retention and attraction is not just a theoretical problem, official say, but one the Brookhaven force already suffers. Sigman said in his memo that turnover is a “huge draw on resources” already, with 17 officers hired to fill 25 vacancies in 2018 alone. When the Brookhaven force was established in 2013, it had competitive pay and was known for poaching experienced officers from other departments, but now 34 percent of the officer corps has less than two years on the job, according to Sigman.

A 3 percent pay raise in 2017 did not keep up with neighboring departments, officials say, and a system of merit-based pay increases did not include cost of living adjustments.

The new pay ranges come with a new hiring strategy as well, focused on hiring more experienced officers and offering them higher starting pay. Officers currently on the force will get higher pay based on experience in or outside the Brookhaven department as well, with the goal of keeping their pay rate on par with newcomers.

The pay raise will replace the standard merit-based raises for 2019, which will then resume under the new structure in 2020. The entire pay system will be reviewed in three years.

For the 2019 budget, the estimated cost of the pay raise is $698,845.96. The city had budgeted $130,000 for the merit-based increases. The difference will come from a $1 million margin in the operating budget, according to Sigman’s memo.

More pay raises may be in the works. Yandura also had recommended a pay increase for the rank of major, with a minimum pay of $83,770 and a maximum of $126,000. However, Sigman recommended a review of the pay ranges for both major and deputy chief ranks following the hiring of a new deputy chief. Former Deputy Chief Juan Grullon resigned in November following a sexual harassment allegation made by a fellow officer, which Grullon denied.

New Brookhaven Police pay ranges

Former minimum and maximum: $42,406 to $67,850
New minimum and maximum: $48,500 to $71,792

Former minimum and maximum: $54,166 to $86,665
New minimum and maximum: $61,076 to $92,000

Former minimum and maximum: $61,752 to $98,852
New minimum and maximum: $69,806 to $105,000

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.