ATLANTA - A Channel 2 Action News investigation uncovered eight Atlanta police recruits accused of everything from a shooting to smoking marijuana have been fired from the police academy in the past two years.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr got a tip about an Atlanta police recruit accused of shooting a man in Gwinnett County.
We filed an open records request with Atlanta police to find out how many recruits are leaving the academy. We checked with the state and found eight recruits were fired because they were accused of crimes or lying.
“Just all kinds of blue lights; we didn’t put up blue for Christmas, but we got blue,” said Steve Shulman, who saw the police response to a shooting on Superior Drive in Gwinnett County on Christmas Eve.
“I heard the shots. At first, I thought they were fireworks,” Shulman said.
“How many shots would you (say?)” Carr asked Shulman.
“Two, just two,” Shulman said.
According to a police report, James Ball shot the boyfriend of a woman he had been talking to on social media two times, once in the back and once in the arm.
The report states Ball told the 911 dispatcher he was an off-duty APD officer. But he wasn’t. Ball was a recruit going through the academy.
We knocked on the door of the house where Ball met the woman.
“I don’t want to talk about that. I’m not liking what I’m thinking,” said the woman who answered the door.
“The old saying, if there’s smoke there’s fire,” said Vince Champion, who is the southeast regional director of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers.
Champion also spent eight years recruiting and training police officers.
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“If this is what he did, and we know that because of the report, there was something in the back that should have raised a red flag and I don’t know how he would get past it,” Champion said.
“We have an issue with retaining officers that we have now and we have an issue with recruiting. I didn’t know we had an issue with the recruits, as well,” Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore said.
Channel 2 Action News went through Georgia Police Officer Standards and Training Council records that show Bell is one of eight Atlanta police recruits fired for troubling reasons in 2016 and 2017.
Three recruits were fired after attending a barbecue where two of them allegedly smoked marijuana and one fired a gun.
The third is accused of lying to a neighbor about the shot coming from his yard.
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A recruit was let go for lying about gang tattoos and another for lying about his family’s gang affiliation.
A recruit was accused of impersonating a police officer during a traffic stop and another allegedly stole a classmate’s ballistics vest.
“I mean, somebody should start looking at that, because there’s a pattern. I mean, so what is the issue?” Champion asked.
Atlanta police declined an on-camera interview with us, but gave a statement, saying:
“Atlanta Police officers receive the most training, by far, of any sworn peace officers in the state of Georgia. Our recruits must complete 35 weeks of training to become sworn officers, which is far beyond the state-mandated 10 weeks.
“There is, indeed, a cost associated with recruiting, hiring and training a candidate to become a police officer. The cost, however, of allowing a recruit unsuitable to become a police officer is a much higher, incalculable cost.
“The Atlanta Police Academy has high standards and the length of our training allows us to identify and weed out unsuitable candidates throughout the process. We view the Police Academy as a focused and ongoing opportunity to vet candidates for police officer positions. It is far better for the Department to identify these recruits, and deal with their behavior now, than to allow them to become police officers and for these behaviors to surface later.
“We are selective about who we hire to become police officers and many candidates are eliminated because they cannot pass rigorous background investigations of past employment, criminal records, creditworthiness and psychological and physical fitness.
"In 2017, we received more than 1,200 applications for police officer positions. Of that number, 878 applicants were accepted based on an initial interview, but only 105 recruits were hired from that pool. Our screening process eliminated many candidates for a variety of reasons.
“While our background screening process is thorough, it is impossible to predict the poor choices some individuals will make once they are hired. We understand and agree that police officers should be held to a higher standard, and criminal behavior by anyone wanting to become a police officer is obviously unacceptable. But it should be abundantly clear that once these behaviors are brought to our attention, we deal with them swiftly and decisively. The dismissals, while disappointing, are proof that our rigorous vetting process – which the public demands and to which we are committed – is working.”
Through an open records request, Atlanta police told us that of the 362 recruits on the payroll in that two-year period, 63 were dismissed or resigned, which is 17 percent.
Atlanta police said they spend an average of $93,666.75 training each recruit.
But the department declined to break down how much it spent on the 63 recruits who quit or were fired. The 63 did not complete the training process.
“No, you’re not getting your money’s worth if this many people are coming and just being tossed out basically of the academy and you’re firing them,” Champion said.
“I think we are, like I said, in desperate need to get our ranks up and hoping that we aren’t cutting any corners to do that,” Moore said.
Last October, Channel 2 Action News interviewed Deputy Chief of Support Services Stacie Gibbs, who oversees Atlanta police recruiting efforts.
“We are not lowering our hiring standards and we’re not lowering our training standards,” Gibbs said at the time.
But the city said it is 264 officers short of its authorized strength of 2,026.
“I think they’re backed in a corner. They’re trying to get more people on the street and they’re not taking the time to make sure they’re getting the right people,” Champion said.
James Ball is out of jail on bond. The man he is accused of shooting survived and is recovering.
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