Atlanta Police Academy graduates
Ric Feld/AP

Criminal Records Common Among New Atlanta Police

October 14, 2008 02:30 PM
by Josh Katz
An examination of public records indicates that more than one-third of recent Atlanta Police Academy graduates have criminal records, raising questions about recruitment standards.

Questionable Recruiting Standards

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed that 12 of 33 recent Atlanta Police Academy graduates have criminal records. Public records indicated that some of the graduates were charged with minor crimes, like shoplifting, while others were arrested for violent acts, such as assault. Other law enforcement agencies had denied jobs to more than one third of the graduates before they were hired by the Atlanta Police Academy. More than half of the rookie officers said they had used marijuana in the past.

The agency claims that the hiring problems stem from budgetary constraints. For more than a decade, officials have unsuccessfully sought to increase the force to 2,000 officers; monetary problems, coupled with competition from other law enforcement agencies, means that the academy can’t be so selective.

Robert Friedmann, a criminal justice professor at Georgia State University claimed that it was more rare to find a police officer with a criminal record three decades ago. 

But Atlanta police Lt. Elder Dancy, head of recruitment for the force, said, “I don’t think you’ll find any departments who hire only applicants with squeaky-clean records.”

Background: Fire department takes hit

The Atlanta budget crisis that is hurting the police department’s recruitment abilities is also taking its toll on the fire department. Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin J. Cochran said he would have to redistribute some of his men after losing 130 positions, possibly increasing the time it takes for the fire department to respond to an emergency. The city of Atlanta currently has a budget shortfall of $140 million, and $13 million had to be slashed from Cochran’s budget this year. 

Related Topic: Excessive force raises questions about recruitment standards

The Justice Department indicated that from 2001 to 2007 the use of disproportionate force by law enforcement authorities jumped 25 percent. According a December 2007 USA Today article, the statistics “come as the nation’s largest police union fears that agencies are dropping standards to fill thousands of vacancies and ‘scrimping’ on training.”

James Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the largest police union in the United States, points out that the cases only account for a small number of the roughly 800,000 police in the country. But he insisted, “These are things we are worried about.”

After Sept. 11, police departments lost many recruits to military service. Consequently, police departments are in stiff competition to entice recruits, and sometimes, stringent training might fall by the wayside, according to USA Today.

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