Gwinnett struggles to fill police ranks

A tight labor market and declining interest in law enforcement have made it tough for Gwinnett County to hire and retain police officers.

At a budget presentation Wednesday, Gwinnett Chief Butch Ayers said attrition on the force has become a critical issue. This year Gwinnett has hired 65 police officers but lost 75 to other departments, retirement or other reasons. Since 2011, the county has seen a net loss of 66 officers.

Gwinnett has 670 sworn officers – or .86 officers for every 1,000 county residents. A long-term plan recommends the county have 1.3 officers per 1,000 residents, and a minimum of 1.1 officers.

One problem: Ayers said new cities in north Fulton and DeKalb counties have lured officers with higher pay. Some officers can earn as much as $10,000 more elsewhere, he said.

In addition, Ayers said fewer people are applying to be police officers.

To address the problem, Ayers is asking for $352,662 to hire 10 part-time “senior” police officers – retired officers who still want to work. The department also has expanded recruiting efforts and recently switched to 12-hour shifts to juggle manpower.

He also encouraged anyone interested – including minorities – to apply.

“Our recruiting slogan is, `Make a difference. Be the difference,’” Ayers said. “To help us reflect our community diversity, you have to be part of it.”