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'Can we afford to lose more people?': APD lieutenant pushing for pay increase for officers

During a phone conversation with 11Alive's Hope Ford, Zygai said officers were leaving APD to take federal jobs, go to other departments for more pay or quitting law enforcement altogether and heading into the private sector.

An Atlanta Police lieutenant had some stern words for the city after he claims leaders aren’t doing anything to address the low pay and high rate of officers leaving the department.

During two September council meetings, Lt. Stephen Zygai, challenged the council during a public speaking session, over a study proving officers in Atlanta are paid less than their peers.

“Aren’t you the legislators? You’re the city leaders, you’re in charge and you know nothing about this Mercer study and what direction we’re going in?" he questioned during a Sept. 4 meeting.

The Mercer study, conducted by a global consulting firm specializing in compensations reviews, compared APD to 10 departments nationwide, as well as local and state agencies.

The study showed APD’s pay is 20 percent below average for recruits, while the median pay for officers is around 27 percent below other agencies.

RELATED | Atlanta police offering incentive money to attract law enforcement recruits

Investigators make almost a third less at APD than other agencies.

Serving as the President of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 623, Zygai said APD is down close to 400 officers, but they’re only hiring around 100 new officers.

“Almost 22 to 25 percent of our staff is gone,” Zygai passionately said during a council meeting. “You as legislators, are you going to make this a priority? Or, are you going to wait until it affects you and your families and it’s in your face? And then you’re going to say we should have done something about it. Can we afford to lose more people?”

During a phone conversation with 11Alive’s Hope Ford, Zygai said officers were leaving APD to take federal jobs, go to other departments for more pay or quitting law enforcement altogether and heading into the private sector.

Zygai told Ford one of the biggest security concerns coming up is the Super Bowl, which he doesn’t believe APD can recruit enough officers in time to make up for the ones that left.

“We are a good five years away from making any type of headway, with the retirements coming up," he said.

The lieutenant also brought up the Super Bowl to the city council, as well as day-to-day calls for assistance, that are vastly understaffed.

“When you have one officer going on a call that should be three or four officers, man with a gun or multiple people with guns and we got no backup, and somebody gets killed, are you going to be responsible for that?”

Zygai questioned the council on what he should tell officers who are ready to leave the department over low pay.

“Is there any advice you can give to the officers that are about to leave? That there might be something at the end of the tunnel? Can we tell them anything?”

READ | Keisha Lance Bottom's first budget as mayor includes pay raise for police, fire departments

While the council did approve a 3.1 percent pay raise to take place for current officers in 2019, Zygai said that doesn’t help new recruits who will still start at $40,000. He also said the 3.1 percent isn’t enough to keep officers and match other departments.

"You got to take at least 50 percent of what you’re willing to put out in four years and put that out immediately to make a major impact to these officers, the men and women of the police department to keep them here.”

11Alive reached out to the city for a response and will update once we receive one.