More than one-third of recent Atlanta Police Academy graduates have been arrested or cited for a crime, according to a review of their job applications. The arrests ranged from minor offenses such as shoplifting to violent charges including assault. More than one-third of the officers had been rejected by other law enforcement agencies, and more than half of the recruits admitted using marijuana.
But Atlanta police say it’s not so simple. Officials have been trying without success for more than a decade to grow the department to 2,000 officers, an effort hurt by this year’s budget crisis. With competition for recruits intense among law enforcement agencies, Atlanta has had to make concessions.
Three decades ago, a police officer with a criminal record was much less common than it is now, said Robert Friedmann, a criminal justice professor at Georgia State University. But times have changed and many agencies have had to relax their hiring policies, Friedmann said.
Other local police agencies have hiring guidelines similar to Atlanta’s. Police departments for Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties don’t hire recruits with felony convictions but do hire those with misdemeanor arrests, on a case-by-case basis.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, through an Open Records Act request, asked in mid-August for the job applications of the Atlanta Police Department’s two most recent graduating classes. The department provided 36 applications for police recruits who graduated June 10 and Aug. 4. All the graduates are currently Atlanta police officers.
The most revealing portion of the application is a questionnaire that includes some probing questions:
Have you ever used marijuana?
Have you ever been with a prostitute?
Have you ever driven under the influence of alcohol or drugs?
And: Have you ever been physically arrested or cited with criminal charges?
Twelve out of 33 officers—36 percent—said they have been arrested or cited with a criminal offense.
“It does not mean they’re not a quality candidate,” Dancy said, adding that the department runs criminal background checks on all recruits. “It just means they made a mistake in their past.”