EXCLUSIVE: FOX 5 I-Team investigation leads to temporary suspension of Atlanta police recruit training

Despite strong urging from the Peace Officers Standards and Training Council director to shut down all training, the Atlanta Police department continued to train recruits. According to the POST director, Atlanta was the only department in the state that ignored his recommendation.

Senior FOX 5 I-Team reporter Dale Russell says after FOX 5 began asking questions, Police Chief Erika Shields decided to temporarily suspend recruit training.

APD's recruit training came as a shock to the director of Peace Officers Standard and Training Council.

 (What did you think when you found out Atlanta police was still training recruits?) "Well, it spawned a lot of questions," said director Ayers.

This is why POST director Mike Ayers was initially alarmed. On March 16th, POST sent all police academies this email, saying all "state-run academies will be closed" and "All other academies are STRONGLY urged to take the same precautionary actions."

APD training director, Major Jacqueline Gwinn-Villaroel responded that the city was developing "online training" for recruits and they will come in for "small groups" to train on the new "online learning platform." That was March 17th.

Last week, we visited the academy and saw recruits in training. Running one afternoon. The next morning, gathering together, huddling, and preparing for training. Recruits wore masks, and were checked for a fever before they went in. Inside, classwork was done from desks spaced far apart in the Gym. The academy also suspended training like hand-to-hand fighting and running in formation. And this obstacle course - not anymore. Too many hands touching too many bars.

APD says no recruit has been diagnosed with the COVID19 virus.

And that was POST director Mike Ayer's biggest fear with training during a pandemic.

 "If we had a candidate show up for training who was asymptomatic, had no symptoms at all, they could affect an entire academy class," said Ayers.

An APD spokesman wrote to me to say it was critical to maintaining staffing to "handle crises, large-scale events and the more than 800,000 calls" yearly. 

Ayers told us he thought every academy had followed his strong suggestion.

When we told him what we found at the Atlanta training Academy, he discussed the ongoing training with Chief Erika Shields.

"She said, Mike, I thought we were in compliance. In effect, she is in compliance, because I made the recommendation that they closed. I did not make it a requirement for non-state agencies," said Ayers.

An APD spokesman wrote us to say they still feel their training was appropriate and no one got the COVID-19 virus. Because of its close relationship with POST, Cheif Shields decided to temporarily suspend recruit training - just like every other academy in Georgia.