Virginia lawmakers making police salaries a priority

(PHOTO: K. Roberts / WCYB)

Virginia legislators unveiled budget proposals Sunday and members of the House and Senate are including an increase for Virginia State Trooper and sheriff's deputy pay across the state.

"You have to set your priorities. Our priorities this year, were focused on the public safety needs and that's been neglected for some time," Senator and former state trooper Bill Carrico said Monday.

Virginia sheriff's deputy salaries are set by the State Compensation Board and the starting pay for a deputy in the state is a little more than $31,000.

That's after the Virginia Sheriff's Association gave local deputies received a 2 percent raise in 2015.

"It's really sad that, again, deputy sheriffs on the lower end until the last increase just for starting pay qualified for food stamps in Virginia," said Smyth County Sheriff Chip Shuler.

Counties across Virginia are able to supplement pay with local funds. But in southwest Virginia, many counties are unable manage the increase- even for officers with years of experience.

For example, the average salary for an officer in Dickenson County with more than 10 years of service is a little more than $35,000.

And Shuler says his newest officers are paid a little more than minimum wage.

"They're having to make life and death decisions constantly. Whether it's to decide to drive a little faster to a call or facing someone armed with a knife or a gun," the sheriff said.

That's why legislators are hoping to increase pay.

"It would calm some of the fears of law enforcement as to whether they can continue to afford to do the job that they have been sworn to do because of the lag in pay that's happened over the years," Carrico said.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe released a statement Sunday in which he says he shares the desire to increase law enforcement pay and promises to review the proposals carefully in the context of the entire budget.