Sheriff lobbying for bill that could boost officers’ pay

Published 4:09 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2024

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NATCHEZ — Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten is lobbying for passage of a bill before the state Legislature that would provide certified law enforcement officers with a much-needed boost in pay.

House Bill 745, introduced by state Rep. Jeffery Harness of District 85, which includes Jefferson and Claiborne counties, would provide officers who are certified and have at least one year on the job with a supplement of $600 a month, or $7,200 a year, paid for by the State of Mississippi.

“Mississippi ranks dead last when it comes to law enforcement officer pay in this country,” Patten said. “The state is sitting on a $500 million surplus. Using some of it to boost the pay of law enforcement officers would help with retention and recruitment of officers, which is a huge problem now.”

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Patten said starting pay for Adams County Sheriff’s deputies is $16.01 an hour. Pay for deputies with experience is $16.91 per hour, which he said is at or below the poverty level.

“All of the officers around here make at least two more dollars per hour than our sheriff’s deputies do,” Patten said. “Natchez Police make way more money than officers at the sheriff’s office. We have a lot of officers who do not want to leave their community and the state, but they do not have any options when you look at what they are paying officers in Louisiana and in Texas.”

County sheriffs and municipal police departments in Mississippi routinely lose officers to state agencies like the Mississippi Highway Patrol and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations before the pay for those agencies are much more than local law enforcement.

“People look at some of the terrible situations we deal with as law enforcement officers, but I wonder if they realize the average officer in Mississippi works two or three jobs just to make ends meet,” Patten said. “Think about the fact that in that situation, you may not be getting an officer who is function at their best because of sleep depravation. The law requires officers to get a certain amount of rest, but that’s hard to enforce when a person has to decide between sleeping and feeding their families.

“Also, consider the quality of officers you are going to get with such low pay,” he said. “I feel like we have a ton of quality officers at the Sheriff’s Office, and I think the same is the case at the Natchez Police Department, but there is room for improvement in our area and all over the state. If we do not put money into this field of work, we will get what we pay for.”

Patten said Louisiana state government already supplements the pay of its law enforcement officers.

“Louisiana has had supplemental pay for years. The state pays that in Louisiana. I can’t understand why in Mississippi, we can’t pay to keep our men and women officers at home, rather then forcing them to move elsewhere to be able to feed their families.

“This job is stressful enough. The average officer sees 84 times more crises that other individuals,” he said.

Patten said the bill is now in front of the members of the Appropriations Committee A and B, who will decide whether the bill moves forward this week.

“We are so grateful to state Rep. Harness for introducing this bill. We now need appropriations committees A and B to give it a fighting chance,” he said.

He urged residents to call members of each appropriation committee and urge them to support the bill and move it forward.

Members of Appropriations Committee A include:

Chairman John Read, Vice Chairman Angela Cockerham, members Brent Anderson, William Tracy Arnold, Manly Barton, Richard Bennett, C. Scott Bounds, Randy P. Boyd, Bryant W. Clark, Sam Creekmore IV, Becky Currie, Clay Deweese, Casey Eure, John G. Faulkner, Jeff Hale, John W. Hines Sr., Joey Hood, Lataisha Jackson, Vince Mangold, Steve Massengill, Missy McGee, Jay McKnight, Sam C. Mims, V. Karl Oliver, Orlando Paden, Bill Pigott, Rob Roberson, Randy Rushing, Donnie Scoggin, Omeria Scott, Jerry R. Turner, Percy W. Watson and Charles Young Jr.

Members of Appropriations Committee B include:

Chairman C. Scott Bounds, members Brent Anderson, Bryant W. Clark, Casey Eure, Jeff Hale, Lataisha Jackson, Orland Paden, Bill Pigott and John Read.

“Those are the people who can make or break this bill,” Patten said.