ATLANTA — Channel 2 Action News got a tip that the Atlanta Police Department spent tens of thousands of dollars on two out-of-town recruiting trips that have led to the hiring fewer than a dozen recruits so far.
Atlanta police told us fewer candidates are making it past the first round because of marijuana use and their criminal histories, and that is why the department is traveling to other cities to recruit.
Biloxi, Mississippi is known for gambling at casinos, like the Hard Rock and Beau Rivage, but the Atlanta Police Department went to Biloxi in August of this year looking to hit the jackpot on hiring new officers. We went on one of these trips to see what it takes to be recruited and whether they’re having any success.
We recorded undercover video during a recruiting event for military veterans.
“Because we have immediate openings, we don’t have a waiting list. If you complete our background successfully, you’re going to get hired,” the Atlanta police recruiter said.
Atlanta police told us they currently have 258 openings. That is about 13 percent of the department’s authorized force of 2,039.
We filed an open records request and obtained documents that show Atlanta police spent nearly $59,000 on recruiting trips and ads between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 this year. Atlanta police recruiters went to Miami, New York City, Fort Campbell, Charleston and Biloxi. The department spent more than $24,000 in Miami and more than $31,000 in New York.
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“I don’t think there is any wasted money,” said Atlanta Police Deputy Chief of Support Services Stacie Gibbs.
When we first requested the costs of those trips in May, Atlanta police told us they had made no new hires, but the process was ongoing. Five months later, the department said it hired eight people in New York and three people in Miami, but more hires could be in the pipeline. Atlanta police told us the recruiting efforts have led to 91 new hires so far this year.
“We’re averaging 11 to 14 people leaving a month,” said Ken Allen, a retired Atlanta police officer and International Brotherhood of Police Officers representative. Allen said failing to recruit enough officers is a public safety risk.
“Our ability to police the streets. I mean, if we don’t change something and change something drastically,” said Allen.
“We are having a hard time hiring police. I think you can turn on TV and see the challenges. Right now there are a lot of scrutiny on police,” said Gibbs. That scrutiny includes NFL players protesting police brutality and last year’s demonstrations in Atlanta after deadly police shootings of African Americans in other U.S. cities.
Adding to those challenges, Atlanta Police note a change in the test new non-degree recruits are required to pass and increased competition from other departments.
But Allen said the department’s pay and benefits put it at a competitive disadvantage.The starting salary of $40,000 is comparable to other Metro Atlanta departments, but its pay tops out lower.
“We’re eight or ten thousand dollars behind neighboring counties,” said Allen.
“We always want to be able to, you know, offer more money if we can,” said Gibbs.
Allen suggested housing assistance for new recruits, incentives for speaking a foreign language, higher starting pay for veterans and guaranteed pay increases early in officers’ careers.
“In seven years, they would be at $64,000 and if we added the stipends in for certificates, these gentlemen could be making $70,000 or $75,000,” said Allen.
Atlanta Police Department offers a one-time $5,000 bonus for veterans. The Atlanta Police Foundation just announced a $500 sign-on bonus for anyone who applies between now and Dec. 31, 2017. The foundation also offers housing assistance for officers on the force and a relocation bonus of up to $1,000 for new recruits.
The Atlanta Police Department sent Channel 2 Action News the following statement about their recruiting process:
This year, the Atlanta Police Department has interviewed 1,530 applicants. We have hired 91 individuals – 40 of those new hires are from out-of-state, clearly showing the benefit of recruiting outside of Georgia. That also shows that the standard for entering our Police Academy is high – we will not lower standards. Of the 1,530 candidates interviewed, we have interviewed 617 candidates at recruitment fairs out of state. It's obvious there is a benefit to recruiting out-of-state when 40 percent of total candidates interviewed came to us through events not held in Georgia.
We have also held 39 recruitment fairs here in Georgia, including one on October 28 where we worked closely with our Human Resources department to hold a hiring event that was a 'one stop' shop with candidate testing to help the candidates advance more expeditiously through the process. Further the Atlanta Police Department has partnered with GE over the last year, receiving valuable guidance and assistance from them to ensure our recruitments efforts are as efficient and professional as possible.
It's a shame that in the current environment where police officers are vilified in some quarters that WSB-TV Channel 2 has chosen to further malign the hard work of our recruitment team.
Cox Media Group