GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — The Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office held their latest event to fill positions in the department, Saturday. And they aren't alone in that need.

The event included orientation, panel interviews, exposure to job and internship offers and information about career development. 

The sheriff's office posted a flier about the job fair on its Facebook page, saying some of the benefits include paid holidays, tuition reimbursement, along with medical and retirement benefits.

Its website said there is an extensive hiring process that assists in the selection of the best applicants.

Metro Atlanta agencies like the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office are pulling out all the stops trying to hire officers. They're touting benefits like health insurance, tuition reimbursement and signing bonuses to lure in prospective hires.

Below is a brief glance at Gwinnett County Deputy Sheriff's salary, according to the county website: 

  • Starting salary is $39,940 for a Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certified (Senior Deputy Sheriff).
  • Starting salary is $35,049 for entry, non-POST-certified detention officer (Deputy Sheriff/Jailer).

"It's a tremendous responsibility, but it's also a tremendous opportunity to really make a difference in someone's life on the hardest day in their life," Deputy Shannon Volkdav with the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office said.

Volkodav spoke about the pride behind the badge.

"Someone who's injured, someone who's been the victim of a crime, when there's been an accident when a loved one has passed away, as law enforcement officers, we have the opportunity to really be there for the community in a very hands-on personal way," she said.

The struggle to keep officers and deputies

The problem has been hiring and retaining officers - not just in Gwinnett, but all of metro Atlanta. There's been a surge in officer recruitment with some departments reporting a 50 percent decrease in applicants.

Other agencies in metro Atlanta have also been seeking recruits recently. 

The Atlanta Police Department has hosted about five recruitment fairs this year along. A spokesperson for the department said they are short about 350 officers. The goal is to have about 2,000 officers serving Atlanta. The last time they had that number was about five years ago.

Cobb County Police are reportedly short about 80 officers. They, too, are working to fill those positions. 

Duluth is offering a $3,000 signing bonus.

And the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office is offering nearly 40 days of combined paid, vacation, sick days and holidays. Even job recruitment firms are working to fill the gaps. 

What's behind the shortage?

Officials with multiple law enforcement agencies said there are four main factors in the officer shortage.

  • Low officer pay
  • Senior officers retiring and not being replaced
  • Public scrutiny of officer-involved shootings
  • Millennials wanting to work for themselves

"It's kind of a heart thing," applicant Isaac President said. "It's either you have the will or you don't."

He was one of the applicants at the job fair and said the benefits outweigh the downside and that wanting to help his community is paramount. 

What it means to be an officer or deputy

"I tell everyone 80 percent of this is customer service," Melanie Jones said. "Twenty percent is that tactical part."

And there is lots of training before putting on the uniform.

Volkadov said that at the sheriff's office, new deputies often start in various departments like processing inmates in the jail, working in the housing units, working during court cases or serving warrants.

She said the most rewarding part is saving lives. In the last month, deputies were able to save three people from dying.

"Those are three families who were spared horrible tragedies," she said. "To hold someone's hand as they're dying or to save someone's life or to save someone's child - those are the experiences that you can't articulate."

Before 11Alive left the hiring event, the sheriff's office hired three people on the spot and they're looking to hire more in the next 30 days. Get more information about Gwinnett's hiring process on their website.