Pension rules leaves local GSP trooper injured in the line of duty wondering how he’s going to pay bills

On Nov. 4th, 2021, 39-year-old Trooper Scott Parker was involved in a pursuit that led to the Trooper crashing as he was attempting to terminate the pursuit. According to the GSP, At approximately 1:00 a.m., Trooper Parker checked a white SUV speeding on I-75 Northbound near mile maker 345 in Catoosa County. As he attempted a traffic stop on the SUV, the driver accelerated to a high rate of speed initiating a pursuit. Near mile maker 352, the Trooper attempted to perform the P.I.T. maneuver, but the violator swerved his vehicle at the Trooper’s patrol car.  The Trooper made an evasive maneuver and lost control of his vehicle. The Trooper’s patrol car traveled off the roadway, struck a tree and overturned coming to an uncontrolled final rest on its top.  The Trooper was transported to Erlanger Medical Center located in Chattanooga, TN.

The Trooper’s neck was broken in three places. He also sustained a shoulder injury, an eye injury, and thirty-one stitches in the top of his head. The Trooper was hospitalized, underwent surgery, therapy, and has had multiple procedures on his neck. The most recent procedure involved an ablation to hopefully ease the pain and numbness the Trooper is still suffering from as a result of this accident. The Trooper returned to work after being on medical leave for over 4 ½ months. Upon the Troopers return, he worked for approximately 5 months and began struggling to perform. The Trooper could no longer adequately perform his job duties because of the constant state of pain from his injuries.

Under the advice of his doctors, the Trooper began exploring his options because he was not going to be medically cleared to return to full duty. The Trooper was met with a “slap in the face” so to speak, when he learned that he would receive an “in the line of duty retirement” in the amount of $1511.00 a month, and if he wanted to keep his health insurance, it would be $400-$600 less. This amounted to a $2500 loss in pay for the Trooper and his family, leaving them to make some tough financial decisions. This Trooper had been with the Georgia State Patrol for 9 years, and he had been a Law Enforcement Officer for over 18 years protecting and serving the citizens.

In 2009, under Governor Sonny Perdue, the State Legislature changed the Trooper retirement from full pension to a small pension and 401K (match up to 3%) retirement. Prior to 2009, Troopers were vested after 10 years and received 2% per year of service towards a pension retirement. For example, a Trooper that had served for 30 years would receive 60% of their highest 2 years of pay upon retirement. Currently, Troopers receive 1% per year of service towards a pension retirement, and the State will match any 401K contributions from 5% to 9%, depending on their years of service. Along with a reduction in retirement, the State health insurance has increased drastically over the past 10 years, while also increasing out-of-pocket expenses for employees. Under the current retirement, if a Trooper suffers a “Line of Duty” injury, and cannot return to work due to the injury, the Trooper has no choice but to take a disability retirement. The maximum retirement benefit the Trooper will receive under the new retirement is 30% of their salary. Currently, a Trooper will max out his salary after 7.5 years at $68,062 annually. 30% of $68,062 is $20,418.60, which is the before-tax amount the injured Trooper will receive under a medical retirement. 

The Georgia State Patrol has begun a recruiting unit to address the manpower issues. GSP has spent heavily in recruiting and there are approximately 9 Troopers, including two supervisors, throughout the State whose sole purpose is to recruit candidates to apply for the Trooper position. GSP has approximately 2-3 Trooper Schools per year with a goal of 100 candidates to begin the Training. GSP has yet to hire 100 candidates for any Trooper School over the past 10 years plus. The training a State Trooper receives far exceeds the training of any law enforcement officer in the State of Georgia. The cost to train and equip a new Trooper is $132,650. 

Considering the exorbitant amount of training a Trooper receives, it is very prudent for another agency to offer more pay and better benefits than is currently provided by the State, in order to recruit Troopers to their department. This has been occurring at an alarming rate. Since the change in retirement in 2009 and reduction in benefits, below are statistics from the fourteen Trooper Schools held after July of 2009: 

87th Trooper School (2/2010) – graduated 31, and 21 remain employed.

88th Trooper School (11/2011) – graduated 35, and 20 remain employed. 

89th Trooper School (6/2012) – graduated 47, and 30 remain employed. 

90th Trooper School (10/2012) – graduated 29, and 7 remain employed.

91st Trooper School (3/2013) – graduated 16, and 10 remain employed. 

92nd Trooper School (7/2013) – graduated 22, and 8 remain employed. 

93rd Trooper School (11/2013) – graduated 18, and 14 remain employed. 

94th Trooper School (3/2014) – graduated 18, and 15 remain employed.

 95th Trooper School (8/2014) – graduated 46, and 19 remain employed. 

96th Trooper School (2/2015) – graduated 30, and 14 remain employed. 

97th Trooper School (3/2016) – graduated 30, and 27 remain employed. 

98th Trooper SChool (11/2016) – graduated 24, and 20 remain employed. 

99th Trooper School (3/2017) – graduated 7, and 4 remain employed. 

100th Trooper School 8/2017) – graduated 13, and 10 remain employed. __________________________________________________________________________ Total Graduated: 366 Total Remain employed: 219 Total left GSP: 147 

Since 2009, the first 14 Trooper Schools graduated a total of 366 Troopers, which cost the citizens of Georgia a total of $48,549,900. Of the 366 Troopers, as of February 1, 2023, 147 have left GSP, which cost Georgia tax payers $19,499,550. As Troopers continue to leave GSP, this requires more Trooper Schools to fill vacancies. This results in more money being applied towards recruiting, and the cycle continuously repeats itself, with Georgia taxpayers footing the bill the entire time. Meanwhile, traffic crashes and traffic fatalities continue to increase, and the number of Troopers you see patrolling the highways and Interstates continues to decrease. The State of Georgia ranks 37th in the nation in pay, and will move to 38th shortly when Tennessee Troopers receive their approved 30% pay raise. A Trooper has no opportunities to work overtime, but is paid in compensation time (paid days off). Unfortunately, the benefits package is not competitive with surrounding states and the majority of local agencies. For example, a ten year Trooper can leave the State and become a Cobb County Police Officer. Cobb County will give that Trooper credit for this time of service (10 years) towards pay and will receive an $8,000 signing bonus. The Cobb County Government applies 24% of the Officers pay towards a pension retirement, and, in addition to the pension, the Cobb County Government has a 4% matching 401k program. And…for “icing on the cake,” you can get all the paid overtime you want at the Cobb Police Department. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) had a handout that was given to State Legislators on February 8th during the Law Enforcement Appreciation Day at the Capitol. Contained in the handout was information on local Police agencies salaries, and how much better they pay their officers than the State of Georgia pays its highly-trained Troopers. 

Georgia is the 8th most populated state in the nation, and it is touted as the number one state to do business over the past several years. What is not being advertised is that Georgia was 4th in the nation in Fatal crashes in 2022, and 3rd in the nation in Officer involved shootings. With the number of Troopers assigned to patrol the highways and Interstates at a historic low, this disturbing trend will continue unless something is done to help hire and retain Georgia State Troopers.

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