Police officers will likely spot a familiar face while patrolling the streets of downtown Atlanta.
Former Atlanta police Chief Erika Shields is featured on a new billboard that reads “Join us in Louisville,” an obvious attempt to poach the city’s cops and persuade them to join their old boss in Kentucky.
Shields stepped down as chief in June 2020, one day after the deadly police shooting of Rayshard Brooks outside a south Atlanta Wendy’s. She took over as chief of the Louisville Metro Police Department early last year.
The second female and first openly gay police chief in Atlanta’s history, Shields steadily worked her way up the department ladder, serving as a patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant and major prior to her appointment to deputy chief. She became chief in 2016, promising reform and vowing not to shy away from tough decisions.
It appears the billboard went up Tuesday just south of City Hall. The move comes as police departments across the U.S. look to fill vacancies and attract new officers.
Lt. Kevin Knapp, president of Atlanta’s police union, said he wouldn’t be surprised if some officers decide to relocate to Kentucky. The offer to join Louisville’s police department comes with attractive incentives, he said, including an $8,000 hiring bonus, another $3,000 for relocating and the opportunity to get a take-home car.
Depending on years of service, an officer making a lateral move to Louisville could earn a starting salary of up to $75,552, according to a social media post that’s making the rounds within the department.
“The pay that she’s putting out there for laterals, these guys are going to get a raise if they go there,” Knapp said Tuesday. “I don’t know if she’s got billboards in other cities, but I’m not surprised that she would start here. The people that work here enjoyed working for her.”
According to Knapp, Atlanta is offering new recruits a $2,000 incentive, one grand for signing on and another $1,000 after graduating from the academy.
“You’re talking about a major metropolitan city, so there’s room for advancement,” he said of Shields’ department. “It’s a huge concern. Louisville’s not going to be the only jurisdiction coming to Atlanta to try and recruit officers.”
Shortly after becoming chief early last year, Shields tapped former Atlanta police Maj. Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel, the training commander for Atlanta’s police academy, to serve as her second-in-command. Louisville’s deputy chief is also featured on the Atlanta billboard next to Shields.
Chata Spikes, APD’s communications director, said given the competitive market she isn’t shocked Louisville officials are looking to recruit officers from Atlanta.
“She and the folks in Louisville know we have some of the best officers in the country,” Spikes said.
On Tuesday, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and police Chief Rodney Bryant said they are also looking to hire more officers, with Bryant suggesting additional officers may come out of retirement to patrol parks and other popular areas during the warmer months.
In a statement from the mayor’s office, a spokesman said the city’s police department is on track to meet Dickens’ goal of hiring 250 more officers, maintain a homicide clearance rate above the national average and that the department “produces some of the best law enforcement officers in the nation.”
“It is evident why Atlanta is a desirable city for recruitment,” the statement read.
Knapp said he enjoys working with the new mayor, who he said is willing to make changes to attract and retain officers.
“Unfortunately those changes may have to happen quicker than he and his team may expect,” Knapp said. “We’ve got to keep these officers here.”