Oct 4, 2021 - Politics
Low morale hinders Atlanta police recruitment
Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia fist bumps a police officer.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp greets a police officer with a fist bump. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

While metro Atlanta law enforcement agencies are praising Gov. Brian Kemp's decision to give $1,000 bonuses to officers and first responders, they say the move is only the first step in addressing long-running issues of recruitment and retention.

Why it matters. Police departments say low morale has put a dent in their efforts to recruit for positions that are under intense scrutiny by the public amid high-profile officer-involved shootings in Atlanta and around the country.

Details: Police departments and sheriff's offices can obtain the bonuses by applying for grant funding through the state's Office of Planning and Budget website through Dec. 31.

  • Personnel eligible for the bonuses include state, local or school police officers; criminal investigators; probation and parole officers; firefighters; EMS; sheriffs and their deputies; corrections officers; bailiffs; fish and game wardens; and 911 dispatchers.

Context: Facing what's sure to be a stiff reelection battle from presumed Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams, Kemp has made support for law enforcement — and criticism of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms for the city's spike in crime — part of his platform.

  • The governor used $2 million from the state's emergency fund to create a crime suppression unit made up of local police, state troopers and other law enforcement officers to address crime in the area, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes.

Yes, but: While the bonuses could offer a short-term boost in morale, leaders of local public safety agencies say a lot more needs to be done to help hire new and keep seasoned officers.

  • Axios reached out to the Atlanta Police Department, which declined to participate in this story. However, the agency said on its Facebook page that more people are showing an interest in joining its ranks.

Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat said his department has 124 vacancies, which is down from 171 when he took office in January. While Labat said the bonuses are a "magnificent first step" in addressing low morale in law enforcement, local departments have to be more creative in keeping current employees and attracting candidates.

  • To attract new hires, Labat says, Fulton County commissioners raised the sheriff's office's starting salary for deputies to $50,000. The department now offers a $9,000 signing bonus to anyone who commits to working for three years at the Fulton County Jail as a deputy.
  • The department, which has just under 1,100 people on staff, is also considering providing a $250 child care stipend for single parents, the sheriff said. To speed up the hiring process, the department conducts on-site physical fitness assessments at job fairs.
  • "You have young people who want to fight crime, but we do a poor job of marketing ourselves," Labat says.

The other side: Some criticism has been lodged at Kemp for using federal coronavirus relief funds to pay for law enforcement bonuses.

Hannah Riley, communications director for the Southern Center for Human Rights, said law enforcement agencies have been talking about low morale for at least a decade, "even after they get everything they ask for."

  • "I think it's especially hard to hear that this is coming for COVID relief funds in a state that's been utterly decimated by COVID-19," she said.

Riley said instead of providing bonuses to officers, Kemp could use that funding to help provide access to affordable housing, healthcare and educational opportunities; supporting people who are at risk of domestic violence and sexual assault; and ensuring people housed in correctional facilities are safe and healthy.

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