DAHLONEGA, Ga. — Both candidates for Atlanta mayor are promising to hire hundreds more police officers to help combat a wave of violent crime. But whoever wins – Andre Dickens or Felicia Moore – it won’t be easy task.
"They’re in dire need of police officers, all over the state," said Dr. Butch Newkirk, the director of the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega's law enforcement academy.
Aspiring police officer Julia Ross expects to have plenty of job options when she graduates next month from college, which is the only school in America that combines a police academy with a four year college degree.
"It is nice. It’s hard choosing one place, but it is nice having those options," said Ross, who attends the law enforcement academy at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega.
For new recruits, there’s no better time to find a new job in police work and perhaps no more difficult time for police agencies to find them.
"In the last year, there’s a lot of police officers that decided they didn’t want to be police officers anymore. And that caused a lot of vacancies in a lot of departments across our whole state and across the whole nation," Newkirk added.
In Atlanta, the vacancies followed instances where Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms rapidly disciplined or fired police officers accused of over-escalating confrontations with civilians in the summer of 2020. Some former officers now face criminal charges themselves.
Newkirk added that many potential police officers are weighing other career choices that require similar educations but offer higher incomes and a safer, more stable work environment.
Now, candidates for Atlanta mayor are promising to hire more police to stanch a surge in violent crime. Andre Dickens promises to hire 250 in his first year, while Felicia Moore vows to fill "hundreds” of open APD slots.
"I could see myself working anywhere in Georgia – whether it’s the city of Atlanta, or down south in Camden County," said Braxton Massey, who is due to graduate from the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega's academy in a year.
Meanwhile, in metro Atlanta, police agencies are posting competitive salaries for starting officers – and Atlanta is right up there, according to their websites.
- DeKalb PD $42,504
- Gwinnett PD $42,985 + $2000 bonus
- Cobb PD $46,000
- Roswell PD $46,562
- Forsyth Sheriff $47,654
- Atlanta PD $48,500
Atlanta also offers a big city experience that some young recruits still find appealing – in spite of the political scrutiny.
"Of course (the scrutiny) is always going to be important," Massey said. "But it comes back to, I still have my job to do. And just being able to help someone regardless of where you stand -- or what someone else thinks you did."
In addition, Newkirk said "you've got to love the job to stay in police work. That’s the bottom line."
Police recruits and politicians agree that voters want smart, professional and ethical police. The question is whether any new Atlanta mayor can get enough of them.