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At APD, easy come, easy go 

An Atlanta Police Department internal memo sheds new light on an old problem: The department has trouble retaining officers.

According to the Aug. 5 memo, written by Maj. Alex Keeney and Lt. Van Hobbs and obtained under the state Open Records Act, nearly 75 percent of Atlanta police officers have been hired within the last five years.

"Once they come to Atlanta and are trained," the memo states, "they stay for a short time and then move on to other agencies, many within the metro area, where they are compensated at an equal to or greater amount and only have a portion of the workload and commute."

The five-page document, which was sent to Deputy Chief Carlos Banda and written at the request of Chief Richard Pennington, points to low pay and poor benefits as the reason many officers choose to leave.

The exodus has a price. The memo states newer officers are more likely to get into car accidents and are more commonly the subject of "unnecessary force" complaints. What's more, salaries and fringe benefits paid to training instructors for new officers are expensive -- an estimated $1.6 million per year.

One thing the memo doesn't address is whether cops have quit in record numbers over the past five years -- or if a 75 percent turnover rate has been a decades-long problem. Atlanta police spokeswoman Sylvia Abernathy says the department doesn't have the data to determine if the high turnover is a recent phenomenon.

Banda says the department's high turnover is part of a national trend that has seen many departments in large cities struggle to maintain a veteran police force.

The Atlanta Police Department was among the lowest paid departments in the country in 2004, according to a report by the mayor's office and APD. The report looked at police salaries in the nation's 200 largest cities -- and ranked the Atlanta department 156th.

While Atlanta police officers typically are entitled to a raise every year, City Council has voted to forgo annual officer raises three out of the last four years, according to the memo.

"The City Council has given us cost of living allowances, which keeps us up to date with the cost of living," says Sgt. Scott Kreher, president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, Local 623. "But cost of living allowances don't keep you up to date with your peers in the same profession."

Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook, who serves on the council's public safety committee, says officers should be better paid. But he says the city also needs more police officers, and he isn't sure there will be enough money in the 2006 city budget to satisfy both needs.

"The council is already on record as saying that we want more cops," Shook says. "The police union wants better pay and pension. And we can't do it all."

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