One bit of good news that came out of Gwinnett County Police Chief Butch Ayers’ budget requests Wednesday was that 130 officers are expected to be hired by the department by the end of this year.
That bright spot is tempered, however, by the fact that the department anticipates losing about 104 officers this year through attrition.
It’s part of a message about the challenges concerning retention and hiring that Ayers has been bringing up each year when the time comes to look at budget requests. This year was no different.
“Our hiring numbers went up since 2016 (when the master police officer position was created to fight attrition) and they continue to go up, but it’s starting to level off and the attrition went down, but the attrition is starting to kick back up,” Ayers said.
In all, the police department is making nearly $3.2 million in requests for additional employees and equipment. The department’s total proposed 2020 budget is $156.6 million.
Amid the department’s challenges retaining employees — it had 137 vacancies as of June 30 — it is looking to increase its number of available officer positions in 2020.
One of the police department’s big requests for the 2020 budget is the addition of 30 master police officer positions, along with two administrative support positions.
It’s expected to cost the county nearly $2.7 million.
“This would increase our authorized strength to 908 officers and the authorized staffing ratio would increase to 1.01 officers per 1,000 (residents),” Ayers said.
Even if the positions are approved, the county’s police department continues to face challenges and competition from within its own county as well as across metro Atlanta for certified officers.
Figures Ayers presented to the county’s citizens budget review committee show every municipal police department in Gwinnett — except the Auburn Police Department — pays their starting officers more money than the Gwinnett County Police Department pays its starting officers.
Gwinnett’s starting pay for officers is also less than the South Fulton, Brookhaven, Atlanta, Dunwoody, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Fulton County, DeKalb County, Forsyth County, Alpharetta, Athens-Clarke County and Cobb County police departments, as well as the Georgia State Patrol, according to one slide in Ayers’ presentation.
The chief said police departments from Gwinnett’s cities as well as Gwinnett County Public Schools Police and Buford City Schools Police poach officers from the county’s police department.
“They tell me the reason they do that is they want the ‘Gwinnett standard’ — well they don’t say ‘Gwinnett standard,’ but they want ethical, highly trained, capable police officers that’s trained to our standards and can do the job that a Gwinnett County police officer can do,” Ayers said.
“They’re out there cherrypicking our best people.”
Buford schools took three experienced Gwinnett cops when it started its police force earlier this year, and Gwinnett schools has taken several more officers, according to Ayers.
Those losses create a cost for Gwinnett County to replace the officers who leave for other jobs. Ayers said it costs about $52,401 to replace an officer who leaves the department when training and salary costs are taken into account.
Since 2013, Gwinnett police have had to replace 392 officers who voluntarily leave the department. It has cost the county $20.5 million to replace them, according to Ayers.
In addition to competition from other departments, another issue is that Gwinnett police is finding is that it is harder to locate people who are interested in being a police officer. Ayers said part of that is a negative perception some of the public has of cops.
But Ayers also said there is competition from other non-law enforcement-related fields for workers.
“Fewer people want to be police officers,” Ayers said. “The economy is doing better, there are private sector jobs out there and its very very tough to recruit police officers.”
But there is the issue of Gwinnett’s growing population. Atlanta Regional Commission figures released Wednesday estimate that Gwinnett added 15,100 new residents in the last year.
“Our challenges are the continuing increase in our service population in Gwinnett County,” Ayers said. “We all know that Gwinnett County is growing and is going to continue to grow.
“Our service population has gone up just over 3% between 2018 and 2019 and we expect it to go up another 2-3% just in the following year, so it’s a moving target.”
Other requests the police department is making include: two crime and intelligence analysts ($113,680); one program analyst ($58,872); six communications officers ($116,851); one emergency management specialist and one assistant manager ($160,910); and one forklift for the emergency management division ($50,000).