ATLANTA --- A nonprofit organization that supports the Atlanta Police Department has revamped a housing program in hopes of getting more officers to live inside the city limits.
"It's a critical part of our strategy to create a safer city -- to have police officers living in the city," Dave Wilkinson, president and CEO of the Atlanta Police Foundation told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution .
Having police officers living in the city increases police visibility and helps deter crime, he said. It also gives officers an emotional connection to the city and makes them less likely to leave for suburban police jobs.
Atlanta isn't the only city that has struggled with the issue. City living is often considered too expensive on a police officer's salary.
Only 22 percent of Atlanta officers live within city limits, the police foundation said. The top reasons are safety concerns, cost of living and quality of schools.
The foundation had a housing program to help officers from 2006 to 2008, but it mostly focused on helping homebuyers with a down payment.
The new program will feature a "comprehensive menu" for officers in different situations, said Stephanie Cruse, the housing program manager. The program is entirely funded by community donations and has a $77,000 budget for 2011.
It is offering $1,000 bonuses for officers to relocate to the city. But it also has other options: short-term city housing for recruits while they're in training; rent-free and rent-discounted apartments in exchange for officers providing security while off duty; discounts on home purchases; and reduced interest rates on home loans.
The foundation plans to work with landlords, community groups, developers and banks to offer the incentives.
Though the foundation wants to help any officers, Wilkinson says the focus will be on new recruits because they are generally more mobile.
"The goal is to engage and cultivate a housing relationship from the very beginning of the application process," Cruse said.
The new program comes just as the Atlanta Police Department is on a major hiring push, with plans to hire 900 officers over three years.