RICHMOND, Va. – Help could soon be on the way for local law enforcement.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday at the Commonwealth Public Safety Memorial in Richmond his final two-year budget proposal, which includes the largest investment in public safety in Virginia’s history.
The plan, which lawmakers will take a look at next week, calls for pay raises for Virginia state troopers, correctional officers, deputy sheriffs and regional jail officers.
It comes as concern grows over staff shortages, overtime and declining morale.
“It’s huge. The mentality and the perception that a lot of people in law enforcement have had over the last couple of years is that we weren’t valued,” Alleghany County Sheriff Kevin Hall says. “This is a start and I don’t think we’d like to see it end here. We need to add to it from there for those who’ve had a number of years of service.”
Hall has been in his role for 14 years. He’s also the president of the Sheriff’s Association. He says the move would help with recruitment, retention and turnover--especially with new hires.
“I think this is going to send a message not only to people in our localities but nationally,” he adds. “The state of Virginia values their police officers. There was no other way to try and fix these issues for officers besides pay.”
Newly-sworn troopers would receive a 7.7% pay raise. The starting salary for new correction officers would increase by 25%.
The average entry-level salary for deputy sheriffs and regional jail officials would go up by approximately 20%.
The budget will also include funding to “address pay compression and provide more raises to a range of targeted officers and sworn personnel.”
Northam said this is to ensure higher-ranking staff with more experience can look forward to raises throughout their careers.
“They’re not wanting to stay in law enforcement,” Lynchburg City Sheriff Donald Sloan says. “They’re going to be electricians or some other type of field away from wearing a badge. We feel that’s because of the climate and the pay.”
Sloan has been with the department for more than 20 years. He says they’re struggling to fill positions. As of July, roughly a quarter of all correctional officer positions were unfilled.
“If I call 911, or my family calls 911, we want help,” Sloan says. “We need to get help on the way. In order to get help on the way, we need help from Richmond.”
The General Assembly and Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin will have the final say over what stays in the budget during the 2022 legislative session. If all goes according to plan, the pay raises could be here in July.
Police departments aren’t included in this, since they’re funded by localities. Sloan and Hall say while it’s a step in the right direction, the work can’t end here.