AUSTIN (KXAN) — A billboard on Interstate 35 in north Austin reads, “Got Georgia on your mind?”

It’s from the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office.

“We’re looking for the absolute best, and if that means we have to go out of the state of Georgia to get it, we will,” said Sgt. Jeremy Blake with the Georgia agency.

The billboard advertises a $50,377 – $77,575 starting salary for existing officers willing to make the move.

Cobb County Sheriff's Office billboard in Austin.
Cobb County Sheriff’s Office billboard in Austin.

According to the Austin Police Department’s website, cadets make $50,000 per year during the academy, and that salary rises to $65,411 upon graduation.

This is not the first time an out-of-state agency has advertised in Austin. In 2021, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office offered a $15,000 signing bonus in an attempt to lure APD officers to Washington State.

“We’ve chosen areas around the country that have a history of now showing a lot of support for local law enforcement,” Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said.

Currently, the Austin Police Association and the City are still at odds over negotiations for a long-term police contract, but Blake with Cobb County, Georgia, said his department chose Austin to “increase our involvement in our recruitment with our veteran population. Austin is much like Cobb County, where you have a diverse population, as well as a very large military and veteran population.”

He said the billboard went up in July, and the agency has gotten bites from interested parties in Central Texas.

“We’ve seen increased traffic, both from our website and our social media profiles from the Austin area,” Blake said. “The team tells me they spoke to residents in the area just as recently as last week.”

Thomas Villarreal, Austin Police Association (APA) president, said he’s not surprised to see out-of-state trying to recruit Austin officers.

APD said it’s not uncommon for agencies to recruit outside of their communities, and that the department is constantly recruiting in other cities and states.

The department is currently down about 350 officers.

“It’s going to take years to get to where we need to be,” Council Member Mackenzie Kelly said. KXAN asked her if she had any concerns about the Georgia billboard.

“I do have concerns about attrition, not necessarily linked to recruitment efforts from other departments, but concerns about retaining our officers,” Kelly said. “The number of cadets we have graduating is a drop in the bucket to the amount of attrition we are experiencing.”

APD’s latest cadet class graduates Friday

The 148th cadet class for the Austin Police Department will start their first patrol shifts – with field training officers – on Sunday night, according to interim APD Chief Robin Henderson.

“I appreciate that they’re going to step up and serve the community,” she said.

APD Chief's Run image
APD’s 148th cadet class ran down Congress Avenue Wednesday for the traditional Chief’s Run.

The class has 19 cadets. Recently, APD changed its training academy model. There are now smaller cadet classes that run more frequently, which shortens the wait time for applicants. The hope, former APD Chief Joseph Chacon said, was for that shorter wait time to bring in more applicants.

“It’s wonderful officers are willing to come and serve in public safety for our city,” Kelly said.

At the cadets’ Chief’s Run Wednesday, Henderson addressed the staffing crisis.

“We are in the midst of a staffing crisis, so it’s exciting to know that we’re having additional officers that are going to be added to the streets to help maintain safety,” she said. “Granted, it is 19, we wish we had more, but we’re excited for the accomplishments of the 19, and we’re excited that they’re going to be out there starting Sunday night.”

Status of the Austin Police contract

“The APA looks forward to the day when we can sit back down at the bargaining table with the City,” said Villarreal. “Once the City is willing to negotiate over oversight, we will reevaluate the position.”

A spokesperson for the City of Austin sent KXAN the following statement when we inquired about the status of the contract.

“The City has reached out to APA to return to the bargaining table to negotiate a successor to the contract that expired in March of this year. To date, APA has not been willing to do so.  The City believes that the best way to address critical staffing issues is at the negotiating table and remains hopeful that negotiations will resume in the near future.”

City of Austin Spokesperson

After the APA and city leaders reached an initial agreement over a four-year contract earlier this year, city council ended up voting to hold off on adopting the agreement until voters decided on two different oversight petitions in May.