In the Georgia Department of Public Safety, Some Lives Have More Value Than Others

A review of operations within one state agency suggests that the lives of some employees are valued at a higher price – quite literally – than others.

It deals with the Georgia State Patrol and Motor Carrier Compliance Division within the Georgia Department of Public Safety, two entities that, on paper, appear to have a less than symbiotic relationship with one another despite having grand similarities. Namely that whilst within the same state agency, one department offers substantially lower salaries, less than favorable retirement plans, and less than equal death benefits if injured or killed in the line of duty. Additionally, by some accounts, the federally-funded MCCD program was offered additional funding to assist in closing the disparity gaps, but it was rejected by current leadership.

Background on the Agenc

Within the Georgia Department of Public Safety, there is the Capitol Police Division, the Georgia State Patrol (GSP), composed of Troopers, and the Motor Carrier Compliance Division (MCCD) which is composed of officers. 

MCCD is a federally funded program which is responsible for enforcing federal regulations for commercial vehicles, as the federal government has no enforcement arm to do so. In FY 2020, the state received $10,029,890 to fund the ~240 sworn officers in hopes of conducting ~77,000 inspections for the fiscal year. Statewide, those officers are spread out, but only ~152 are in ‘non-supervisory roles’ and conduct the inspections across Georgia roads and interstates.Their number one role is to reduce the number of commercial vehicle crashes on Georgia roadways.

Similarly, the Georgia State Patrol has ~890 Troopers across that state. Their primary role is traffic enforcement and crash investigation on roadways in Georgia. 

Salary & Training Differences

In 2017, the Department of Public Safety created its own MCCD school, based on the foundations of Trooper school. Now, the MCCD school actually includes more hours of training than Trooper School, in some instances. Nevertheless, grave pay and benefit disparities exist between the two divisions. 

On average, MCCD officers earn 12-26% less than Troopers of the same rank.

Georgia State Patrol TroopersMCCD OfficersDifference
Starting Salary (FY 2024) – in school$56,350$44,080$12,270
Sergeant$87,304$72,420$14,884
Sergeant First Class$94,935$79,822$15,113
Lieutenant$103,328$88,912$14,416

When it comes to retirement, MCCD officers are not classified as members of the ‘Uniform Division of the Department of Public Safety’ and are treated differently than every other sworn state officer in Georgia – including Troopers, GBI agents, Georgia DNR wardens, probation officers, and agents with the Department of Revenue. This means that MCCD officers are ineligible to apply for disability and receive a monetary monthly allowance if they become disabled due to violence or injury in the line of duty. 

Troopers are also eligible to retire at an earlier age than MCCD officers. Currently, if a vested employee seeks to retire before 30 years of service a Trooper can draw retirement benefits beginning at age 55 while an MCCD officer must wait until age 62.  

And perhaps worst of all, the death benefits paid out to families of MCCD officers killed in the line of duty is less than the death benefits paid out to families of Troopers who are killed in the line of duty.

Each of these things have contributed to the ongoing recruitment issues within MCCD where the agency continues to operate with far fewer officers than needed to adequately meet their guidelines. While such is the case for many law enforcement entities across the state and country, individuals routinely opt for Trooper school over MCCD school simply because of the stark contrast in pay.

Some argue this disparity is justified by the different duties performed and the fact that MCCD officers tend to work Monday through Friday with a more ‘steady’ schedule while Troopers work varying shifts, but MCCD enforcement is data driven and based on when commercial vehicles are on roadways. Traditionally speaking, the highest number of commercial vehicles travel Monday through Friday, not on weekends. At least, that’s what all of the data from national organizations determined.

Additionally, MCCD officers are discouraged by DPS from conducting the business Troopers are, like stopping motor vehicles, and are prohibited from working CMV and non-CMV related crashes. 

That is, until they’re called out for special details. 

Assigned to Same High Risk Jobs

Though they are different classes of employees under DPS, they’re often assigned to the same high-risk duties…but not for the same compensation. 

Routinely, in anticipation of civil unrest, the entire agency of the Georgia Department of Public Safety is placed ‘on call’ to respond to incidents in major cities, particularly in Atlanta. In 2023, when a tornado ravaged Spalding County, both Troopers and MCCD officers made their way through the destruction to assist the community. 

Additionally, both Troopers and MCCD officers are assigned to Crime Suppression initiatives and SWAT details for these special duties, standing side-by-side and subjected to the same heightened levels of threat. But at the headline-garnering incident at ‘Cop City’ in Atlanta where a Trooper was shot in the line of duty, it was an MCCD officer who dragged the Trooper out of the woods and to safety. He was also injured, albeit minorly, but had both the Trooper and the MCCD officer ended up in hospital beds side-by-side, one would collect nearly double the disability than the other. 

But it’s not just the special assignments that can be risky. Like any law enforcement position, MCCD officers encounter dangerous individuals and toxic substances.

Among other documented incidents across the state:

  • A MCCD officer was exposed to fentanyl and had to NARCAN himself and call EMS
  • A MCCD officer located six 2.5 gallons of liquid methamphetamine 
  • A MCCD officer located/arrested off of traffic stop that was on FBI Top 10 Most Wanted List and another, more recently, made an arrest in Bulloch County for a wanted murder suspect.
  • A MCCD officer was involved in a traffic stop which escalated when the driver attempted to flee and dragged the MCCD officer for a distance before he fired his weapon and ended the pursuit
Options for Remedy

Because MCCD is federally funded, the state would only be on the hook for the gap in benefits from which the federal funding falls short. Since September 2022, headlines across Georgia have read “Huge Surplus Leaves Georgia with $6.6B in Cash to Spend” and “How Will Lawmakers Decide to Spend $6.6B in Cash Surplus?

Despite that, remedies for the issue were not submitted in the DPS budget requests for FY 2024 when the legislature convened in January of of 2023. The legislative session came and went without any remedy. When pressed about the disparity, and even an effort at one point during the session to give Troopers a raise – along with every other state law enforcement officer – but pass over MCCD officers, Senate Appropriations Chairman Blake Tillery had this to say:

“When we were moving the Trooper school monies to figure out how we would allocate increased raises, we were not trying to say anyone’s better than others. That was not our goal. Uh, what we were looking to do is to, um, compensate those who have had increased duties. I think there is a valid argument that MCCD division has had that. What we focused on mostly were those who were having to respond to riots and chaos during the pandemic and I look forward to talking with you more offline and in conference if there are others we left out. It was not intentional.”

It begs the question of what the Senate was told by the Department of Public Safety, since leadership communicating with lawmakers would have been aware of the fact that it was deploying MCCD officers to those very riots and unrest referenced by Senator Tillery.

And during a Board of Public Safety meeting, Chairman Ellis Wood said the issues could not be discussed in a public forum and should be addressed to then-Colonel Chris Wright individually. He claimed that the issues do not fall under the purview of the board because they’re personnel matters. In the next meeting shortly thereafter, that board voted to increase Wright’s salary by ~$15,000 to nearly $200,000 annually. 

So how could the departments within the state agency be brought closer together when it comes to valuing its employees?

The Legislature 

In 2022, Georgia lawmakers sought to remedy the retirement change but an actuary study and fiscal impact analysis was necessary. It took a year to conduct the study and the bill died in committee.

Lawmakers tried in 2023 to push standalone legislation but the bill did not pass out of either chamber. In 2024, the bill passed out of the House but failed to make it to the Senate floor before lawmakers adjourned for the year. 

Governor Kemp could sign an Executive Order amending the retirement classification and changes would take effect immediately. This would ensure MCCD officers are treated the same as other state law enforcement officers.

Merge the Two Entities into One Under the Georgia State Patrol

One option for fixing the problem is to combine the two separate departments within the state agency and classify everyone as ‘the same’ kind of employee – a Trooper. It would also reduce the number of schools the agency operates each year as Trooper school and MCCD school currently run parallel and at different times. 

Florida did something similar about a decade ago. ~280 DOT officers statewide merged with the Florida Highway Patrol and became troopers. The year after the move was made, the streamlining was estimated to save the state $1.3 million during the following fiscal year. Just this week, the Iowa State Patrol did the same thing.

Do Nothing

The Department of Public Safety has the option to do nothing – at the expense of the integrity and morale of MCCD. Doing nothing, however, sends the message to the officers and the public that DPS does not support the division, despite the grave need. 

Nationally, Georgia MCCD ranked:

  • #1 for distracted driving enforcement and impaired driving enforcement
  • 4th for the number of inspections
  • 3rd for the number of inspections for violations
  • 1st in the percentage of inspections with violations (at 75%)
  • 1st in the number of inspections with moving violations and the percentage of inspections with moving violations (at 36%)

Jessica Szilagyi

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of TGV News. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement and corrections. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and co-creator of of the Peabody Award-nominated podcast 'Prison Town.'

Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

2 Comments

  1. Jessica
    Thank you for your article regarding the disparity in pay and benefits concerning MCCD Officers And GSP Officers.
    I have additional information that I am willing to provide.
    John Yacup
    Retired DEA Special Agent and former Adviser and Policy Analyst to President Bush and Clinton.

  2. Enjoyed this well written and thoroughly researched article. The statistics and disparity of treatment among officers is shocking and shameful. As a proud family member of an MCCD offficer, I have seen first hand the commitment and risk to life these officers exhibit daily. And to think of the loved ones, children, who would be left behind with appallingly less recognition or benefits that state patrol officers receive is nonsensical and impractical when considering the funds that could be saved if the two entities were covered under one umbrella, so to speak. Thank you, Ms. Szilagyi, for bringing this issue clearly to light. Hopefully it will make a difference.

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