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Washington police agencies resort to bonuses, social media to find officers amid staffing shortages

The city of Seattle is the latest municipality to equip its police department with hiring bonuses to attract experienced officers from other agencies.

SEATTLE — New incentive bonuses of up to $25,000 are on the table for new or experienced police officers hired by the Seattle Police Department (SPD).

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced the Emergency Civil Order on Friday to address the ongoing officer shortage crisis.

Because several agencies in Washington state offer a hiring bonus for experienced or "lateral" officers to come on board, the Seattle Police Department has not been able to compete, according to Sgt. Randy Huserik.

There were mixed reactions on whether the $25,000 bonus will actually attract potential experienced candidates for both officer positions and the Community Safety and Communications Center.

The Seattle Police Officers' Guild Board of Directors released a statement in reaction to Durkan's emergency order, saying in part, "dangling money to recruit new or lateral hires won’t get the job done. Seattle cannot simply hire enough people to balance the loss of so many officers as other agencies across the nation are competing for those same jobs."

Currently, the SPD is operating on its Stage 3 Mobilization Plan to keep up with call responses while the officer shortage continues. 

Huserik said a major part of the shortage is due to record-setting numbers in retirements.

In July 2021, the department had 310 openings and since then, the city said only 62 officers have been hired.

Huserik said the number of applicants has dwindled drastically over the past few years.

Part of that may stem from how the public views law enforcement, according to Huserik, who said the SPD needs people who want change to apply.

"For those people that talk about what they want law enforcement to look like, you know, we’re asking those people to step up and perhaps becoming officers yourself and being a part of reimagining and changing law enforcement into what people say they want it to be and want it to look like," Huserik said. 

Every law enforcement agency KING 5 spoke to said they understand there is an officer hiring crisis across the country.

Several departments across Washington state are down officers.

Tukwila Police Department:

In Tukwila, the police department has 66 officers on staff and are short 11, according to Officer Victor Masters, the public information officer for Tukwila Police. 

Masters said Tukwila Police are currently offering a $10,000 hiring bonus for qualified lateral (experienced officers). The department will also pay for travel expenses when a potential lateral candidate is coming to the area to apply and take the test.

Masters said between 60% and 70% of the department's officers are lateral hires and said this has created a good mix of experiences and backgrounds.

Edmonds Police Department: 

In Snohomish County, the Edmonds Police Department has nine open police officer positions, according to Acting Assistant Chief Josh McClure.

McClure said a full staff would be 58.

Currently, Edmonds Police does not have a hiring bonus in place but does offer other incentives. 

McClure said all of the department's recent departures have been from retirements and that the biggest challenge for hiring new officers has been due to a lack of qualified applicants.

The department has been using social media, including several tweets in the past month, in an effort to attract new applicants.

Pierce County Sheriff's Department:

The Pierce County Sheriff's Department (PCSD) is also using social media while trying to get new applicants and experienced officers to apply.

Recruitment efforts for larger departments across Washington state include looking out of state for experienced police officers.

PCSD Sgt. Darren Moss said the problem with this strategy is that other law enforcement agencies across the country are doing the same thing.

Moss said Arizona State Police recruiters were spotted at this year's Washington State Fair, not far from where Pierce County Sheriff's recruiters were set up.

Pierce County recently granted approval to PCSD to increase the lateral in-state deputy hiring bonus from $10,000 to $15,000.

Moss said the bonus increase will keep the department competitive with other agencies also offering incentives to lateral hires.

Currently, the PCSD is down about 40 full-time staff, according to Moss, who said the department's full staff total would be at 353.

Moss said the county's jail is also short with 27 staff openings.

This year, Moss said the department has hired a total of eight people when in past years, as many as 36 were hired.

Besides retirement hurting the total of deputies on patrol, Moss said police reform may be part of the reason fewer people are interested in becoming an officer. However, Moss said the department wants new members to be part of change going forward.

"You might think that there needs to be a change. But guess what, that change has got to be you," Moss said. "It's got to be the person that's going to put in the time, that's going to come and use their ethics and their values to impart on this profession and make it better.” 

King County Sheriff's Office:

In King County, the King County Sheriff's Office (KCSO) needs about 54 deputies and 29 civilians, especially communications specialists for the 911 center, according to Sgt. Tim Meyer, the department's media relations officer.

Meyer said the KCSO is using social media, but it also hired a local company to help create targeted ads.

The KCSO is also hosting virtual meetings so people can ask questions about becoming a deputy.

Meyer said the department is constantly hiring to keep up with the loss of deputies and other staff to retirement. The "accommodation process" for the county's COVID-19 vaccine mandate is still underway, which means the department is not yet sure if departures will happen.

The KCSO does not currently offer a hiring bonus, but Meyer said the department does not necessarily see a full benefit to that because there may be a risk of losing deputies after a short period of time to another agency.

The department is also looking for qualified applicants out of state.

Going forward, the KCSO is looking for new hires who have an interest in law enforcement and want the department to reflect their community.

Meyer said it's about "more public safety and less law enforcement" since this goes hand in hand with crime prevention and problem-solving while on patrol.

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