Pay hike puts Forest Park PD in recruiting game

The Forest Park Police Department got a long-wished-for pay increase that's attracting applicants in a competitive market.

FOREST PARK — The Forest Park Police Department has long complained that its salaries were not on par with other agencies. Now, FPPD’s salaries are competitive enough to snag new recruits.

The city recently hiked police salaries, as well as those of other city employees. Under the old salary range, non-certified recruits in the academy were paid $35,146. As of April 15, they now get $40,591.98. For experienced officers with additional certifications, education and in-demand skills, starting pay can top $60,000.

Subject to the chief’s approval, those officers with five or more years experience as a sworn law enforcement officer at another agency can earn between $46,883.74 for a high school grad with basic police certification to $55,663.74 for an experienced cop with a master’s degree and advanced certification. The same applies to officers with at least three years experience at FPPD.

In addition, officers can earn an additional 2.5 percent pay bumps if they’re bilingual, know sign language, are certified field training officers, firearms, or approved specialty instructors, handle canines, or hold supervisory, management or executive certifications.

The job comes with tuition reimbursement and free medical, dental and vision insurance for each officer. Family health coverage is $13 per week with dental and vision for another $2.50 per week.

Interim Chief Major Jamie Reynolds said that word has gotten around about the new pay levels.

“We had officers training in Forsyth, a couple of other places, who were approached by officers in other agencies as far as, ‘Is this for real?’”

Reynolds said that, when Ft. Gillem was open, the department was authorized for 70 positions. “With the base closing and the development, we slowly started adding additional officers,” he explained. “From the mid-80s to the time of Ferguson and Baltimore, not just Forest Park but a lot of agencies had trouble recruiting officers.”

When the housing market collapsed in 2008, about 300 people applied to be Forest Park Police officers each year, according to Reynolds. Of that number, perhaps 30 would be qualified.

In addition, recent breakaway cities like South Fulton and Brookhaven, which Reynolds said was paying officers $72,000 for a lateral transfer, cut into the available pool of candidates.

“Everyone was fighting over the few certified officers,” he said.

Two of the department’s newest recruits, Jeffrey Liebert and Freddy Romero, are not yet police officers but are hungry to become detectives one day.

Liebert, a Rockdale County native and graduate of Heritage High and Clayton State University, had thought about going to law school.

“I was a criminal justice student over at Clayton State University,” Liebert said. “I needed to have an internship and we actually had one of the ex-chiefs that was a part-time professor, and through him, I knew that the Forest Park Police Department had an internship program, and I reached out to the internship coordinator for Clayton State, and she managed to hook me up with an internship over here.”

After some hands-on experience, going on ride-alongs and helping with Cops in Barbershops, he knew where he wanted to be.

“They do a lot of community interaction, and being able to actually be there for victims of crimes, it was just such a wonderful feeling being able to be a part of such an impactful organization,” he said.

Romero is a Clayton County native, born at Southern Regional, raised in Lake City and Morrow, “but I always hung around Forest Park,” he said. “I went to Lake City, Babb, and then Forest Park High.”

Romero is the first graduate of the department’s Police Cadet program to apply for a job on the force. He says of all the activities he took part in, he especially liked “the courtroom case where we ended up playing detective. That’s the one that really got me interested in policing over there. I just love the way the detectives work.” After serving in the Army, Romero applied to the police academy.

The pay increase is a welcome incentive for recruits.

“After the Forest Park (City) Council meeting, that’s when they went up in pay raise 10%,” Romero said. “I was like, ‘Hey, more money for me!’ I was happy about that.”

Anyone interested in joining the Forest Park Police Department can contact Sgt. K. Flanigan at 404-366-7280, ext. 202 for details.

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