Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced Friday the city has reached a goal first set by a predecessor 16 years ago: a police force of 2,000 officers.
The vow was renewed when Reed took office four years ago, but until now the target has remained elusive as the Atlanta Police Department battled recruitment and attrition woes that kept the force just shy of its mark in recent years.
“It’s really made a difference in the quality of our safety,” Reed said of reaching the 2,000 mark, noting crime has dropped 17 percent in the past four years. “Now that we’ve reached our goal … we’re going to do what it takes to keep the police department at that level.”
Standing with Atlanta Police Chief George Turner, city officials and the APD’s 2,000th recruit, Reed said the milestone is a fulfillment of a campaign promise made in 2009, one that he says drew skepticism from the community. Then-Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell pledged in the late 1990s to employ 2,000 officers by 2000.
“Despite all of the doubt … to those who said we would not get here, we did,” said Reed, who faces little credible competition in his re-election bid. “We defied the odds.”
Duriya Farooqui, the city’s chief operating officer, said hitting the mark has “concrete impact.”
“It allows us to respond to 911 calls faster,” she said. “It gives us approximately 15 officers per square mile, and it deepens our capacity in situations where we have a significant event, allowing police coverage for the rest of the city to remain at a steady and strong level.”
Reaching the goal was made possible through a combination of efforts from the city and the Atlanta Police Foundation to drive up the number of qualified applicants and then keep them on the roster, Turner said.
Dave Wilkinson, head of the police foundation, pointed to a study his organization conducted that found in the decade leading up to 2007, the department hired about 140 officers a year, but was losing as many as 180 as officers retired or left for other agencies. The study also revealed most attrition occurs between two and five years of service, he said.
“The city of Atlanta was basically training all the officers for the metro area,” he said.
The foundation, a private nonprofit group that provides support to APD, funded a new application website making it easier to apply, Wilkinson said. (The APD now receives as many as 8,000 applications annually, Turner noted.)
To cut down on attrition, the foundation began awarding academic scholarships to officers who had two years on the force and would commit to three more, Wilkinson said, allowing them to obtain college degrees. APD awards bonuses to officers with five years on the force.
The foundation also started a housing incentive program to encourage more officers to live in city limits.
Reed is credited with passing legislation in fiscal years 2011 and 2012 creating 200 new officer positions. The mayor also shepherded legislation to grant pay raises of 3.5 percent in 2011 and another 1.5 percent in the last budget cycle. (Many public safety union leaders said then the most recent raise was too low and have criticized the Atlanta City Council for giving millions in incentives to businesses to relocate to the city, instead of granting higher raises.)
“Clearly we are doing something better, because our attrition levels are down significantly,” Reed said, noting attrition has been halved to around 5 percent.
Reed said while he believes the city has done its part, more work must be done to manage the effect of repeat offenders, who he says create “an outsized amount of crime” and are often released back into the community because of jail crowding and lenient sentencing. He’s called on Fulton County officials to build a new facility to lock up more violent criminals.