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Roswell Police fully staffed for first time in 2 decades

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Roswell Police Officer R. Ateca introduces himself at a community event in June. Ateca is one of 160 officers in a department that is fully staffed for the first time in 20 years.

ROSWELL, Ga. — For the first time in 20 years, the Roswell Police Department is fully staffed.

The department announced there were 160 officers employed at the start of 2023, leaving no vacancies.

“Staffing for law enforcement and retention is a challenge, it’s not a Roswell, North Fulton, Georgia issue, it’s worldwide,” Police Chief James Conroy said.

When Conroy was appointed chief in 2019, he said the department had many vacancies. Hiring new officers and keeping them was his top priority.

He said the department worked with the city to take steps to encourage applications. The first was salary. Historically, Conroy said Roswell has played “catch up” with the salaries in neighboring cities.

“Salary is just one component, but it is the big headline grabber,” Conroy said.

He met with Roswell Mayor Kurt Wilson and the City Council to address police pay, and in July 2022 the council agreed on a “Best in Class” salary template.

The policy raised existing officer salaries by 20 percent and boosted starting salaries by 20 percent across the board. Brand new officer’s salaries start at $58,553, and officers with experience and a college degree can make up to $71,635.

Roswell adopts $173 million budget for 2023

Conroy said the salary increase worked— in 2022, the department hired 36 new police officers, 23 of them with experience at other agencies.

The mix of new and experienced officers was intentional. Conroy said the department received 737 applications in 2022 alone, but they wanted some officers with experience who could start the job faster.

Still, Conroy wanted to put some officers through the academy so they could learn about Roswell from the ground up.

“This is where they develop their policing skills, many of them grew up here, then became officers,” Conroy said. “They work where they grew up, which is important.”

Salary increases aren’t the only measure the city is taking to bolster its police department. In November, Roswell residents approved a $52 million public safety bond, almost half of it committed to a new public safety headquarters for police, fire and the 911 call center.

The Roswell Police Department has been in the same building on Hill Street since 1991. Back then, there were 88 officers serving 49,000 residents. Since then, the population has nearly doubled to 93,000.

With a nearly doubled officer size, Conroy said the department has “outgrown” its existing headquarters.

Mayor Wilson said the decision to support the department financially was an easy one, even if it went against some people’s wishes.

“For the last couple of years, there’s this narrative out there about defunding the police,” Wilson said. “We’re going to do the opposite; we’re going to fund the police.”

The “defund the police” movement gained some popularity in 2020 in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis, Minn., police.

The Defund the Police website calls for channeling money away from police and investing in community initiatives.

Locally in Metro Atlanta, and more specifically in North Fulton County, police funding was never threatened, and a host of cities have raised salaries to retain and recruit police.

Roswell Councilwoman Lee Hills, who serves as liaison to Public Safety, supports the initiative to reward good policing.

“Our residents don’t know all that most officers do, but I would say in the top three items if you ask any of our residents, brand new or been here forever, why do you love it here?” Hills said. “It feels good, it’s safe.”

Conroy emphasized the department takes a less traditional approach to some aspects of policing.

The department abides by a 21st-century policing, a six-pillar framework focused on reducing crime and building trust with the public. It also has an active policy of de-escalation, an alternative police tactic focused on decreasing the intensity of confrontations.

A 2022 University of Cincinnati study showed that training officers in de-escalation techniques resulted in 28 percent fewer use-of-force incidents, 26 percent fewer injuries to community members and 36 percent fewer injuries to police officers.

Conroy said teaching officers the policy was hard, but the department is “being smart” about interactions, and there is still work to do. In the coming weeks he expects a few vacancies, but he already has a list of candidates lined up.

Mayor Wilson and Councilwoman Hills said they plan to continue their support for sound policing through 2023.

Wilson said city support needs to be more than financial.

“They look at more than salary, they look at support,” Wilson said. “Are we supported by our elected officials, are we supported by our community?”

He also lauded the standards the department has set.

“The department has a 5 percent acceptance rate, which is pretty impressive for a job that doesn’t pay out and doesn’t give you a lot of glamour,” Wilson said.

Reach Delaney Tarr at 770-847-8079. Follow her on Twitter @delaneytarr.