Three local law enforcement agencies wonder why it has become increasingly difficult to recruit officers | Local News | Spokane | Interior of the Pacific Northwest


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All levels of law enforcement feel understaffed.

TTimes Square pub was part of Spokane Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich’s plan. A Times Square ad that spelled “Washington” as “Washinton”, to be clear, was not.

But combine the two – the two-day Times Square $ 12,000 billboard and a typo that Knezovich attributes to the advertising company – and the result was the kind of free advertising stunt that marketing executives could only dream.

It has been featured in local television news segments across the country. He appeared in newspaper articles like the Miami Herald and on right-wing websites like the Daily call. Knezovich was interviewed by CNN and on Fox and his friends.

And they all delivered the same message: Spokane County was looking to hire dozens of MPs away from other agencies and was offering hiring bonuses of $ 15,000.

“You see people leaving the profession. You have read all the articles. Search them on Google. Record retirement levels while the pool of candidates is almost nil,” says Knezovich. “Our strategy: let’s pursue good cops in areas they disrespect. That’s what we did. Target Portland, Seattle, I-5.”

In some cases, he said, that meant putting advertisements on notice boards directly in front of police stations.

His department could use the extra help. As a proportion of the population they serve, the staff of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department is about as low as it has been for at least 35 years.

Law enforcement agencies across the country have reported similar challenges. In September, vacancies forced the Spokane Police Department to suspend its traffic unit.

“Ten years ago we would have had several hundred people on our recruiting list,” said Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl. “Now we usually have less than 100”.

However, the problem is not new and solving it is not easy. Even in the leftist city of Seattle, voters rejected politicians who ran on “defund the police” rhetoric. But it’s one thing to fund the police. It’s another to convince them to come and work for you.

Ina sense, the city of Spokane at has already reimbursed the policy. It eliminated dozens of police stations through a budget deficit in 2004, and it funded 19 other police stations that were vacant due to the Great Recession of 2012.

The number of Spokane County Sheriff’s deputies also fell during the recession and never fully recovered.

Even as the economy improved, the Washington State Patrol was laying off up to nine officers per month. Chris Loftis, the agency’s communications director, says WSP salaries were so low they were leaving for other agencies.

Finally, in 2016, Loftis said, “the legislature stepped in and dramatically increased our pay scale.”

Meanwhile, leaders in the city of Spokane had slowly restored the number of police stations, culminating with a tax measure approved by voters in 2019 to pay 20 more police officers. But at the end of this year, Meidl told city council they were struggling to recruit to fill the positions they already had.

When the Interior Asked then what was driving the recruiting challenge, he cited negative media coverage and generational cultural shifts as factors. But the biggest problem? The economy, he says. It was too Well. Attracting workers to exhausting and sometimes dangerous police stations has been difficult.

“Now there are so many other options out there, they will go with those options,” Meidl said.

On the contrary, the bizarre economy of the pandemic era of 2021 is even more difficult. Labor shortages mean everyone is fishing for the same workers, and soaring inflation means these workers can seek higher wages as a result.

“Unemployment is the lowest since 1997 in Spokane,” Council President Breean Beggs said. “People are thinking about what they want to do with their lives.”

Wages lower in Spokane County Sheriff’s Office than in the town of Spokane, but Knezovich doesn’t think that’s the biggest problem.

“In reality, are you ready to embark on a profession that comes under fire from critics on a daily basis? Said Knezovich.

Sometimes he means it figuratively – referring to the later refuted “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” claim of the Ferguson, Missouri protests, to the “All Cops Are Bastards” rhetoric by some protesters in 2020, to the media and politicians to “demonize an entire profession,” to the “folly” of recent police reform measures in the Washington Legislature, to the perception that the state attorney general is “determined to arrest police officers ”.

But at other times the police are actually under fire: In the summer of 2016, two mass shooters – one on the far left and one on the far right – targeted police.

“Five Dallas cops have died from radicalized hatred,” Knezovich says. “Ten days later, three more in Baton Rouge.”

Knezovich describes a 25-year-old MP and a 15-year veteran, both shaken enough by events to want to resign altogether.

WSP’s Meidl and Loftis touched many of the same notes in their own comments – the past eight years have been unsettling for some agents.

“I think respect is part of the motto of the profession,” says Loftis. “If you are paid in dollars and not in respect, sometimes it is dangerous and lonely work.”

In this context, 542 law enforcement officers across the country have died from COVID-19 – more than all of the country’s officers slaughtered on duty in the past 10 years combined.

But it wasn’t fear of the virus that sparked a large Washington State Patrol exodus last month: it was opposition to Gov. Jay Inslee’s demand for a shot.

Inslee’s immunization mandate was cited in the departure of 159 WSP employees, or about 7 percent of their workforce.

“I think the vaccine warrant was a full stop at the end of the sentence that had already been written for some,” Loftis says. “For a lot of people, this is the culmination of a few difficult years.”

Combined with existing vacancies, WSP has 256 vacancies.

But Knezovich is also ready to give these deceased employees a chance. The sheriff’s office added the phrase “NO mandatory vaccine required” to their ads.

“The vaccine mandate was a full stop that had already been written for some.”

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Knezovich dismisses concerns that hiring officers who have quit or been fired from other agencies due to COVID mandates or frustration over police protests could be “disgruntled,” saying he is still very selective about who they hire.

“We had 143 applicants. We only hired 16, ”says Knezovich. “There are agencies in this region that will hire people that we will not hire.

Meidl says the Spokane Police Department’s standards are equally selective. He says the department is trying to adapt. They have offered testing opportunities more frequently, recently relaxed the department’s college requirements, and got a grant of $ 56,000 to try and recruit from more diverse populations.

Despite the turmoil of the past two years, Meidl says the police department had actually slightly Following candidates in its last application cycle compared to 2019.

Beggs, an advocate for police reform, notes that anti-police rhetoric is not new. He says public confidence in their police service has improved dramatically from what it was 15 years ago when a Spokane police officer beat janitor Otto Zehm and lied to investigators on this subject. Today, he says, the officers themselves may have the best sales pitch, and he suggests Spokane send them to “recruit down the road.”

“I think life in Spokane for the police is pretty darn good compared to other parts of the country,” Beggs said.

The challenge is, right now, almost all career fields are struggling with their own staffing shortages.

“We’re not the only ones offering bonuses of $ 15,000,” Knezovich said. “You have a trucking company that is offering $ 15,000. I just asked one of my assistants to retire and go work for them.” ??

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