S.C. LEOs, COs on track to get pay raises in 2022
The lower-than-market value pay has made it difficult for the state to fill law enforcement positions, particularly in juvenile justice
By Joseph Bustos
COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina lawmakers are set to debate a nearly $14 billion spending plan this month that'll include millions of dollars to raise the starting salaries for law enforcement in an effort to fill hundreds of vacancies across the state.
A chunk of the proposed budget, approved by the House Ways and Means Committee, spends $38.1 million to recruit and retain law enforcement and corrections officers.
The pay raises were recommended by two state Department of Administration studies, completed in January and February, which looked at pay in other states, local police departments and private sector employers competing with state agencies.
In its studies, the department said low pay, the competitive labor market, the public perception of law enforcement and the industry's hazardous nature make it difficult to recruit people into the profession.
Gov. Henry McMaster, supportive of raising pay for officers, requested the studies.
"We know that compensation alone is not the only solution to the high vacancy rate and low applicant flow, but it is the most important factor that employers can directly influence," Marcia Adams, the executive director of the Department of Administration, said at a Thursday press conference in support of the raises.
The lower-than-market value pay has made it difficult for the state to fill law enforcement positions.
When McMaster made his request in January, the state had 442 law enforcement positions vacant.
"South Carolina has the best law enforcement team in the United States and they have been working hard for years. They're well-trained and well disciplined. They run to the danger and they protect us all," McMaster said Thursday. "They are the cream of crop in the country, and they ought to be paid commensurate with their expertise and their performance."
The Department of Administration recommended that law enforcement officers already employed by the state get the new starting salary or get a 5% raise, whichever is higher.
The studies suggested lawmakers raise starting pay for:
- State Law Enforcement Department, to $50,500 from $38,000
- Department of Public Safety, to $48,000 from $44,075
- Department of Natural Resources, to $46,500 from $39,206
- Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, to $44,500 from $41,000
- Department of Juvenile Justice evaluation centers, to $38,000 from $35,000
- Department of Juvenile Justice detention and long-term facilities, to $40,432 from $35,000
- Corrections officer at a minimum security facility, to $39,140 from $34,480
- Corrections officer at a medium security facility, to $43,837 from $36,946
- Corrections officer at a close or high security facility, to $48,925 from $38,982
Pay raises likely for juvenile justice employees
The state agency responsible for South Carolina's juvenile offenders has struggled to hire corrections officers.
Help is on the way, lawmakers said.
Starting pay for juvenile corrections officers increases to $38,000 and $40,000 depending on the type of facility the corrections officer works, under the House's proposed budget. That is up from $35,000 a year, which increases to $36,400 a year after six months on the job.
That should help the Department of Juvenile Justice, which last year experienced an employee walkout over low pay and working conditions and a scathing Legislative Audit Council report.
Under pressure, former Director Freddie Pough resigned. The governor has since nominated attorney Eden Hendrick to take over the agency full time.
The agency also plans to spend millions in unspent dollars from previous years, some of which is being used to provide bonuses for newly hired and current employees, said Brian Symmes, spokesman for the governor's office.
Juvenile corrections officers get a $2,500 annual bonus if they have worked five years or less at the agency.
Hendrick told lawmakers recently that an initiative to shift how the agency cares for youth with serious mental illnesses could alleviate issues for employees.
State Rep. Phillip Lowe, R-Florence, who oversees a House budget panel on law enforcement and corrections agencies, said when the state is able to build a facility dedicated to those juveniles, it can help solve many of the work environment problems at DJJ.
House budget writers set aside $20 million to build a facility.
Asked why the raises were lower for DJJ than other law enforcement agencies, Lowe told The State correctional officers traditionally earn less because of required education level for the job.
Police officers usually have a two- or four-year degree in criminal justice and have full arrest powers. The agency does not require that level of education for its officers.
"There's risk in both and we appreciate the job both of them do, but long standing there's been a difference in the starting salaries, a considerable amount of difference," Lowe said. "We thought it was important to keep some difference there."
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