City finds it hard to hire more cops
Although the mayor and City Council promised to hire more police officers, the Seattle Police Department says it can't find enough qualified...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Although the mayor and City Council promised to hire more police officers, the Seattle Police Department says it can't find enough qualified recruits.
The department had planned to hire 24 recruits in the first quarter of 2007, but managed to hire only nine, according to a council report presented Tuesday.
"It's the overall competitive job market," said Mike Quinn, strategic adviser to Chief Gil Kerlikowske. Private-sector jobs pay better than police work, he said.
The shortfall casts doubt on whether the department will be able to add 105 police officers over the next five years, as Mayor Greg Nickels pledged this spring, or even the 30 new officers the City Council put in the fiscal 2007-08 budget last fall. The additional hires would improve response times to 911 calls and give officers more time to work on crime prevention, the mayor said when he announced the new positions.
With retirements, new positions and other vacancies, the department wants to hire a total of 80 officers this year.
At Tuesday's meeting of the council's public-safety committee, Assistant Chief Jim Pugel said the Police Department may be able to make up for the first quarter by recruiting more aggressively the rest of the year.
The department has hired 34 new officers so far this year, and 1,000 applicants have signed up for the entrance examination scheduled for August, according to the department.
"I assume they're right that it's a national problem. The problem may be worse here because of the cost of living," said Council President Nick Licata, chairman of the public-safety committee. "Maybe we have to look at a compensation package and at providing more training."
"To be fair, the Seattle Police Department warned us when we did the budget that just saying we're going to add officers doesn't mean adding them."
The number of filled positions in the department fell by 2 percent between the first quarters of 2006 and 2007, from 1,282 to 1,255. The number of patrol officers also dropped slightly in the same period, from 717 to 699, about 3 percent.
The department plans to offer financial incentives, including paying for $2,500 in uniforms and equipment for new hires and giving $1,000 to Police Department employees who refer a successful candidate.
Recruits make $3,862 a month plus benefits while they are enrolled at the police academy. Once they become sworn officers, they start out making $47,335 a year, with regular increases as they gain experience.
Recruiters have traveled to Idaho, Washington, D.C., and New York. Later this year, they plan to go to Atlanta and San Antonio.
The department also wants to offer entrance examinations monthly, starting in October.
Department managers say that of the many people who apply, few become successful candidates. In fact, even though 1,000 applicants have signed up for this month's entrance exam, managers expect just half to show up at the test.
City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen said he is "deeply concerned" that public safety in the city is deteriorating. He said the woman who cuts his hair was recently punched in the face at a bus stop at Third Avenue and Pine Street downtown.
"We need more officers downtown," he said. "People need to be able to wait at the bus stop without being roughed up."
Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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