This week, the leader of the Atlanta Police Department stated his case for their proposed $247 million budget. Chief Darin Schierbaum presented the department’s top priorities for the upcoming fiscal year, with personnel representing $202 million of the tab. Overall, the department is asking for an $11.7 million increase from the current year.
“The number one area where our budget goes is to the men and women that work around the clock,” Schierbaum told the Atlanta City Council.
The city’s top cop made his case in front of the City Council for 30 minutes before spending another hour answering the members’ questions. In addition to staffing, hiring more mental health professionals and funding for a civilian traffic unit were atop the list.
Capital B Atlanta was on hand for the presentation. Here are our biggest takeaways.
Current Staffing Levels
Before telling the council about hiring plans for next year, Schierbaum gave a snapshot of what APD’s current staffing numbers look like.
As of April 3, APD had a total of 2,110 staff members, with 695 vacant positions.
There are 445 vacant sworn officer positions and 250 vacant civilian professional positions within the department.
“We are starting to see our attrition slow,” Schierbaum said about the department’s retention efforts.
He credited the bonuses officers received in June, the 9% raise officers were given in January, and Mayor Andre Dickens for being engaged with APD and making visits to precincts around the city.
Raises for sworn officers
Salary increases — which are provided for in this year’s budget, Schierbaum said — will help the department recruit and retain officers. Specifically, he said, the increases will prevent APD from losing officers to nearby suburban police departments that offer higher pay.
“That is key to us filling the remaining vacancies to get back to a fully staffed police department as we prepare to host the world once again here in our city,” he said, referring to Atlanta being chosen as one of the cities to host World Cup games in 2026.
The current starting salary for a new police officer is $52,865, and for officers transferring from another police department or military police the starting salary range is $54,979 to $64,318.
Replacing officers with civilians
Schierbaum spoke at length about the department’s efforts to convert certain sworn officer jobs into civilian positions. The transition, designed to address staffing shortages, is part of the department’s expansion into new territory.
Last year’s budget included the police department’s plans to shift certain operations that were being run by sworn officers to the administrative umbrella.
Departments that were moved included finance, budgeting, facilities, technology, strategic planning, the 911 center, and code enforcement. The transition began in 2022 and will continue this year until these departments are fully run by civilian employees.
Schierbaum said the goal is to decrease turnover within the departments and ensure they were being run by professionals with proper training.
“We anticipate when this process is done, we may have nearly 40 sworn personnel that have been able to be returned to crime fighting,” he said.
Hiring mental health professionals
Part of that planned expansion of civilian APD employees will be six mental health professionals for a co-responder pilot program. One staffer will be assigned to each zone and will respond with police to calls relating to an individual in a mental health crisis.
Their role, Schierbaum said, will be to assist in de-escalation and ensure the individual is taken to the appropriate care facility. Schierbaum’s hope is that the co-responder program will allow APD to cut down on the number of recurring mental health calls.
“It will influence our officers to be more competent and compassionate,” he said.
Civilian traffic unit
The budget also includes funding for a new civilian traffic unit.
“Traffic accidents on Sunday can be the number one 911 call that we respond to,” Schierbaum said.
Civilian traffic units have been done successfully in other cities, and officials are hoping to replicate that in Atlanta. Schierbaum cited the Highway Emergency Response Operator (HERO) Unit that is run by the Georgia Department of Transportation and responds to traffic accidents throughout metro Atlanta.
The HERO unit’s main duty is to clear the roadway after an accident so that traffic can flow normally. They also assist with flat tires, dead batteries, or people low on fuel or coolant who get stranded on the side of the road.
“The state is actually cutting back its funding for the HERO Unit, so I think this is a timely investment of where we can use city resources to be able to create a team under the police department’s umbrella to respond to individuals that may be in a broken down car,” he said, adding that this would also help APD free up 911 resources.
Schierbaum noted that there has been a reduction in 911 center response times to 12 seconds on average, which is down 19 seconds from last year.
Dickens is expected to approve or veto the final budget in late June. Till then, the City Council can make amendments to the budget as many times as it likes. The 2024 fiscal year budget goes into effect July 1.
There is no public comment during the departmental budget briefings in May. If you have questions or comments about APD or any other department’s budget, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org