Sandy Springs Police Department started with 86 police officers. Dunwoody opened with 40 and Brookhaven began with 54.
The departments have expanded through the years as they have become better established — Sandy Springs is up to 128 officers; Dunwoody has grown to 52, with openings for two more and request to hire even more in 2016; and Brookhaven has 70 sworn officers patrolling its streets.
In the beginning, the city departments had little trouble attracting new officers. Brookhaven Chief Gary Yandura said he received 1,600 resumes from would-be Brookhaven police.
Sandy Springs police recruiter Officer Nick Smith said new police departments typically add a “bit of persuasion” to their salary scale and benefits to bring in the most qualified people. “When you start out a city and you have nobody, you don’t have the manpower or ability to train brand new officers so you have to incentivize it to the point where your pay and your benefits are going to attract some of these people that are in locked pensions to move over,” Smith said.
But officials of the young police agencies say they still have little trouble attracting new officers as they grow, at least in part because they typically offer higher pay, better benefits and more training opportunities than some other, older departments, Smith said.
Some officers say these departments also attract and retain officers for other, less tangible, reasons. “We know a lot about one another and we’re a big family,” said Sgt. Andrew Fondas, who helps recruit for Dunwoody police. “In a big agency you’re sometimes just a name and a badge number. Here, you’re a real person.”
In Sandy Springs, some of the original hires of the police department say they’ve stayed put because they value the high caliber of their co-workers.
In some cases, recruits from other cities who started five or six years ago might be making less money because of the recent recession and a lack of raises in their departments, Sandy Springs recruiter Smith said. “They are not upset or disgruntled,” Smith said about officers who leave other city or county departments to work for Sandy Springs.
Instead, they see that the SSPD has given cost-of-living raises of between 1percent and 3 percent for the last six years, so they decide to make a change, Smith said. “Word of mouth is big for us, for Sandy Springs,” Smith said. “We set a high standard and we don’t lower our standard just to fill a position. We will go without if we don’t have a qualified applicant.”
Brookhaven Officer Celeste Rausch left Smyrna police to join the DeKalb city’s department in February. She traded the rank of sergeant, and working as a shift supervisor in charge of nine people, for the rank of police officer because she felt she’d be making more money and working for a better agency.
Rausch said she had gotten to a point where she wasn’t excited about going to work as a police officer in her former city, but in Brookhaven she has the opportunity to work and take part in units, such as an honor guard.
“I like the management here. I feel like they let you do their job,” Rausch said. “The people who are in charge here have all made their names somewhere else and they’ve already done really well at other places, so when they came here it wasn’t about proving themselves.”
Yandura said law enforcement goes through cycles in which there are times it’s more attractive as a career than at other times.
“It is more difficult to be a police officer now, with what’s going on in the country, so you have people who are a little leery of getting into law enforcement,” Yandura said. “But you’re always going to have people interested in law enforcement.”
Yandura said he started a take-home car program in Hiram when he was police chief there. The program is a “big thing now,” Yandura said. Officers who live within 30 miles of the police departments for Brookhaven, Sandy Springs and Dunwoody can use a patrol car to commute.
Dunwoody, Brookhaven and Sandy Springs police officials say that, for the most part, they aren’t losing their officers to other agencies.
In Dunwoody, for instance, Fondas said the department has retained most of its workforce and when officers leave, they are either changing fields or moving out of state. Many who left, went to work for federal agencies, he said.
While leaving the Sandy Springs Police Department isn’t the norm for officers, Smith said some people have come and gone.
“One person this year left because he went to work for Waffle House as a manager,” Smith said. “In the long run, he’s going to make a lot more money and I guess that’s what drives him.”