Trooper recruitment: Georgia state troopers stand in street outside the Georgia Capitol building behind a street barrier.
Atlanta, GA- November 21 2020: State Troopers (in light blue shirts) and other law enforcement personnel assembled at The Georgia State Capitol at a rally of President Trump supporters. (The Brownfowl collection/Shutterstock)

ATLANTA  – The Georgia State Patrol is struggling to recruit candidates, dealing with a decline in trooper numbers possibly caused by the current climate. 

During the Georgia House Appropriations Public Safety Subcommittee meeting held virtually on January 22, the most important issue centered around recruitment and retaining troopers to protect the citizens of Georgia.

“Since I’ve been on for 28 years now, we’ve been trying to get to a thousand troopers and we were just not able to make a lot of headway with that,” said Georgia Public Safety Commissioner Chris Wright. “So one of the things that we’re doing within our agency now is we are currently evaluating and looking at the states around us to see how they have adjusted their policies to recruit and retain more employees.” 

Rep.  Al Williams, D-Midway, asked where Wright predicts the department heading, especially along the lines of competition with other higher paying departments and the turnover cost of losing recruits after much invested training. 

“The profession is certainly very competitive because whether you’re with a five-man department or a 5,000-man department,” Wright said. “Everybody is trying to recruit and having that same difficulty acquiring the new recruits and retaining them. We talk about the 860 number, strength-wise, as far as what we’ve always been trying to get to as far as budgetary concerns goes, and we’re currently at 783 on the trooper side.” 

In terms of budget and incentives to join the force, according to the Georgia Department of Public Safety, troopers at minimum receive a salary of $32,418 until the start of trooper school. While in trooper school, their salary goes up to $34,038, and then upon graduating their salary minimum is $35,741. 

Rep. Stan Gunter, R-Blairsville, asked, “I was wondering, are you losing personnel due to the current environment that we have, in this country with law enforcement?” 

“There’s no doubt that that has been a deciding factor for people to join this profession and leave this profession,” Wright responded. “We have seen an uptake in retirements in 2020, and a lot of it has been specifically related to the environment that we’ve seen. The anti-police environment has not done well for us over the last few months.” 

Hiring troopers is hard

Dr. Thaddeus L. Johnson, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University, is a former police commander in Memphis, Tennessee. Now his academic research is primarily focused on “police policy and innovations, urban violence, crime control and racially disparate justice outcomes.”

“I did a lot of hiring and firing, unfortunately.”

Between the challenges associated with pay and the constant risks this field brings, acquiring recruits is a lot tougher than it would seem. He said having representation is a crucial factor in getting more applicants.

“There’s a lot of misperceptions about the force that causes nontraditional nonwhite males not to join, but there’s also the legacy of racism [and] discrimination, and not having representation in police leadership.”

According to the Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics data conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2000, Georgia State Patrol included 84% White or Caucasian full-time troopers, 1% Hispanic, 15% African American or Black. While 97% of the troopers were male and 3% female, full-time personnel for the GSP. 

“The anti-police environment has not done well for us over the last few months,” says Georgia Dept. of Public Safety Commissioner 

A New York Times interactive story, written by Jeremy Ashkenas and Haeyoun Park in 2014, showcased the gap between police departments throughout the U.S. from a 2007 survey. The survey found that white was the most predominant demographic among suburban Atlanta law enforcement, such as Douglasville and Marietta. The survey found fewer racial disparities in Atlanta between the population and law enforcement. 

Although this study was conducted more than 20 years ago, race still remains a prevalent issue on minorities in the Georgia State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies.

“If our citizens don’t trust us enough to even call us to report a crime, when we’re in danger, how do we think they’re going [to respond when] you come and [ask them] to join the force?” Johnson said.

The Georgia Department of Public Safety’s mission is to “support the efforts of all public safety agencies to reduce crime, apprehend those who commit them, and respond to natural and manmade disasters.”

“The police are not victims,” Johnson said. “But their hands are tied, both budget-wise [and] physical-wise. These issues must be better before the Georgia State Patrol and other local law enforcement agencies can gain more recruits.  

“They don’t control that. And so we have to look at it and hold our city governments accountable, a lot of local governments accountable, hold our mayors accountable. These are the types of things we need to focus on outside of just the police department.”

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