Atlanta police ramping up recruiting efforts amid officer shortage

The Atlanta Police Department is still nearly 430 officers shy of its authorized levels, but department leaders say fewer people are leaving this year. JOHN SPINK / THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION



The Atlanta Police Department is still nearly 430 officers shy of its authorized levels, but department leaders say fewer people are leaving this year. JOHN SPINK / THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

After a tumultuous 2020 in which more than 200 Atlanta police officers retired or resigned, the department now says more people are interested in joining the force.

Morale fell within the department last year amid the backdrop of mass protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd and the decision by the former Fulton County district attorney to charge several Atlanta police officers in use-of-force cases.

About 170 officers called out sick during an unofficial “Blue Flu” protest days after two cops were charged in the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks outside a south Atlanta Wendy’s. And former police Chief Erika Shields stepped down in June as cellphone and surveillance footage of the police shooting made national headlines.

Staffing remains nearly 430 officers below the authorized level, but department leaders say “things are looking up.”

“As most of you know, the 2020 summer of protests, and the fallout from those months, left the APD in a precarious situation with staff resignations and morale hitting its lowest point in recent memory,” the department said in a recent Facebook post. “The good news is, we are still standing, and we have found our footing.”

Officials say interest in joining the department has increased in recent months, with more people completing online applications to become police officers. As of this time last year, 1,045 people had started their online applications and 912 completed it. This year, the department says nearly 5,600 potential recruits began the application process and 3,644 have completed it.

“While we have not yet surpassed last year’s hiring number, we are seeing fewer officers leave the department and this is good news for us,” APD said, calling the increased interest in open positions “extremely promising.”

Excluding recruits, the Atlanta Police Department has 1,623 sworn officers on staff, down from 1,688 this time a year ago. Another 93 recruits are being trained now.

Officers are still leaving the force, but the attrition rate appears to be falling this year, data shows. A total of 202 officers retired or resigned in 2020, and another 115 left the department through the first nine months of this year, according to the most recent available records.

“We were seeing an attrition rate that was through the roof,” Atlanta police Chief Rodney Bryant said recently. “We’ve stabilized that, where people aren’t leaving the police department as much as they were in the past. Once you’re able to plug the hole at the bottom you can add water (to) the bucket, and I think that’s what we’re doing.”

An APD spokesman provided attrition figures but not the ranks of those who left, so it wasn’t immediately clear how many years of experience the department lost with this year’s officer resignations.

Atlanta police Chief Rodney Bryant said last year's attrition rate was "through the roof." Officer morale appears to be stabilizing after a tumultuous 2020, with fewer cops leaving the department.

Credit: Rebecca Wright

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Credit: Rebecca Wright

Atlanta police have ramped up recruiting efforts by hosting job fairs on college campuses in Atlanta and beyond, said Chata Spikes, APD’s communications director. Last month, APD sent a group to South Carolina in an effort to recruit students at Clemson University. Like many agencies, the department has also launched an aggressive social media campaign aimed at attracting new hires.

“Despite everything that’s going on in the world, we are seeing an increase in interest and applications,” Spikes said Friday. “We have a a very diverse department that mirrors our city, but we are interested in hiring even more diverse candidates.”

That includes women, military veterans and people from different backgrounds, as well as those who may be looking into policing as a second career, she said.

“If you’re looking to go from corporate to cop, we’re looking for that, too,” said Spikes, adding the department is also searching for new 911 dispatchers amid a recent shortage.

Law enforcement agencies across metro Atlanta have seen staffing levels dip in recent years, prompting many departments to adopt more lenient policies in the hope of casting a wider net for potential applicants. The Georgia Department of Public Safety, for instance, amended its tattoo policy earlier this year in an effort to attract more candidates with visible ink.

Previously, state troopers wore long sleeves in the cooler months and switched to short-sleeve uniforms in the summer, said Lt. Auston Allen, recruiting coordinator for the Georgia State Patrol.

Under the new policy, tattooed troopers are still required to keep their ink covered on the job, but they can now do so by wearing long-sleeve uniforms year-round. Officials said the previous policy excluded many, including tattooed veterans and those with experience at other agencies.

“Ultimately, the Georgia State Patrol is trying to stay centered in a diverse world,” Allen told the AJC in February. “We still have a tattoo policy, but it’s much more relaxed than it was.”

Other departments are increasing pay and benefits to keep officers on the force while recruiting new hires. In September, Sandy Springs officials unanimously approved a 20% raise for officers and sergeants, with council members voting on a 5% cost-of-living adjustment and a 15% pay hike.

City leaders are also going out of their way to entice cops from other departments through a $10,000 hiring incentive for out-of-state officers and a $4,000 incentive to those who come to Sandy Springs from other departments in Georgia.

With the recent pay increase, Sandy Springs is now among the highest-paying police departments in the state, if not the highest, agency spokesman Sgt. Sal Ortega said. As of Friday afternoon, the 151-member police department had just nine officer vacancies, but was looking to fill 15 positions.

The pay increase appears to be working.

Sandy Springs police received 20 applications last month, which was about average. But the department received 65 new applications in the past week alone following the Sept. 21 council meeting, Ortega said.