Hispanics make up about 5 percent of the city’s population, a diversity rate the Atlanta Police Department aims to reflect in its force.
That quest is an ongoing challenge, police officials say. That’s largely why the Atlanta Police Department has recently focused part of its recruiting efforts beyond the Atlanta region, targeting cities with a large Hispanic population — like New York City and Miami.
Atlanta faces a lot of competition from cities across the nation seeking bilingual recruits. That’s why two years ago, the Atlanta Police Department instituted a 2 percent incentive pay bonus to help woo potential officers to the city.
Leading the recruiting effort is Atlanta Police Department Major Elder Dancy, who declined to cite a specific number of bilingual officers the department would like to hire. Instead, he says, the department looks for “as many as we can get through the process. And that’s the biggest challenge.”
That process is often a significant barrier because only 8 to 10 percent of applicants are good enough to make it through the hiring process, Dancy says.
While it might be tough to attract enough Spanish-speaking officers, officer Michael Rosario ─ who is bilingual ─ says it’s essential. He says he can tell instantly when someone doesn’t speak English.
“They’ll look at you with that look, like ‘I don’t understand,'” Rosario says. “As soon as I tell them I speak Spanish, that instantly makes them feel comfortable, and it’s easier for them to communicate with me.”