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25 police grads to bolster force

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

LAWRENCEVILLE -- With more than 800 training hours under their belts, over the course of a five-month regime that's billed as being among the state's toughest, 25 academy graduates were minted as Gwinnett County Police Department officers on Thursday night.

The payoff? More training.

Recruits who graduated from the 81st Gwinnett County Police Academy must now complete a 60 workday field training program. They'll first observe specially trained officers on the streets, then be observed as they take the reins. It's part of the department's push to fill uniform patrol functions, so that more tenured officers may rise into specialized roles.

Should the recruits succeed, the department's sworn officer tally will be 726, keeping it the third largest in Georgia behind Atlanta and DeKalb County police. Another 23 positions are open, and hiring continues.

An ad campaign calling attention to the vacancies, which includes a prominent electronic billboard on Interstate 85 in Atlanta, is catching eyes, said Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Brian Kelly.

Similar campaigns in previous years have used popular Atlanta radio stations to get word of starting salaries -- $35,000 for non-certified recruits, $37,600 for those who are -- and $2,000 hiring incentives across the board.

Recruits are paid at the non-certified rate during training.

"Just as with any other type of business or industry, we compete for qualified applicants," Kelly said. "Getting the word out is part of that process."

Recent hiring has paid dividends. As the 80th class has been assigned to the streets, Chief Charles Walters was able to staff a code enforcement unit with five officers, rechristening it the quality of life unit that had dissolved in the face of budget cuts, Kelly said.

"Now, more than ever, that's an important goal for the department," he said. "In these economic times, we've all seen that many of the issues the (unit) was built to combat are exasperated by foreclosures and other economic peril."

As for the 81st batch of graduates, Kelly said the class size is about average, as some recruits typically quit. Shooting and driving portions of the academy have proven to be pitfalls, he said.

In many areas, the requirements of Gwinnett police training exceed the state's, Kelly said.

"Just because a recruit may fail here does not mean they couldn't qualify elsewhere," he said.