July 13, 2007
Most wanted: police recruits
Special to The Seattle Times
The Seattle Times
When it comes to finding enough qualified recruits to fill its rank-and-file, the long arm of local law enforcement is working harder than ever before.
With hundreds of openings in the Seattle Police Department, King County Sheriff's Office and Washington State Patrol – not to mention nearly every smaller suburban police jurisdiction across the state – law-enforcement officials are posting their own APB in search of ready, capable candidates to wear a badge.
To meet hiring demands, law-enforcement agencies are trying recruiting techniques often used in other fields. Working to become a more visible employer, Seattle's police department is advertising on buses and radio broadcasts and giving presentations at colleges.
Over the summer, the department is working recruiting booths – complete with Seattle police pens, bags with logos and other giveaways – at local festivities, from the gay-pride parade to Seafair events.
Agencies are pursuing employees just as aggressively nationwide.
Inside local law-enforcement circles, recruiters call it a "feeding frenzy" as departments compete to hire the next generation of men and women in blue.
"You see some agencies around the country that look like piranha" as they try to hire eligible candidates, said Trooper Jeff Merrill, spokesman for the Washington State Patrol.
Big-city, out-of-state departments are known to dangle hefty signing bonuses in front of potential recruits, making local hiring even tougher.
How to learn more about jobs in law enforcement
Want to learn more about opportunities in law enforcement? Check these Web sites:
Job Cop: www.jobcop.com
Seattle Police Department: www.seattlepolicejobs.com
King County Sheriff's Office: www.metrokc.gov/sheriff/join
Washington State Patrol: www.wa.gov/wsp/hrd/hrdhome.htm
U.S. Department of Homeland Security: www.dhs.gov
U.S. Secret Service: www.secretservice.gov/join
Potential recruits "are not signing on the dotted line as rapidly as they did just five or six years ago," reports Lake Forest Park police Chief Dennis Peterson, who is trying to fill two openings in his north King County department of 22 officers.
Compare that to Seattle, which needs to hire 80 officers this year – and another 70 or so in 2008. At least 172 openings each year are expected in departments throughout King County through 2014.
In his nearly 34-year career, Peterson says he has seen hiring "highs and lows, but not to this extent."
Why a hiring challenge now?
Law-enforcement hiring officials point to a combination of factors.
For starters, some potential recruits are opting to first serve in the military. Meanwhile, some experienced officers are being pulled out of their law-enforcement duty by military reservist responsibilities. At least 44 percent of departments across the country have a reduced work force due to military service, according to a poll of 2,100 agencies by the Police Executive Research Forum.
Sheer population growth is also taking its toll, according to Officer Andre Sinn, with Seattle police employment services.
"Growth in Seattle, not to mention suburban sprawl and growth, means our hiring has to keep up with the population increase," he said. "When you add this to the number of officers we lose to retirement and attrition, you can see why we have to fill all these slots."
An additional challenge: stringent requirements that filter out candidates with previous drug use, including anabolic steroids. Growing numbers of potential candidates are being eliminated by the drug-use prohibitions, before they even take the required civil-service exams.
All of which leaves departments across the nation in the position of needing to sell themselves to prospective employees.
Larger departments such as Washington State Patrol offer opportunity for advancement, specialization and assignments throughout the state, Merrill said.
Sinn and his Seattle colleagues sell potential recruits on the more than 40 specialized units available beyond patrol – from motorcycle and horseback teams to K-9 teams and "CSI"-like squads of forensic detectives.
So you want to be an officer?
Recruit requirements vary among agencies. However, these guidelines provide an overview of what departments want in candidates:
Education: College is not always a requirement, but it is considered helpful.
Age: Minimum-age requirement typically varies between 19 ½ and 20 ½ years old. Many departments find top recruits in career-changers who turn to law enforcement in their 30s and 40s.
Fitness: Recruits who prepare with the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission Academy in Burien or Spokane must score well in 300-meter and 1.5-mile runs, one minute's worth of sit-ups and the maximum number of push-ups they can perform (with no variance for age or gender).
The average wage for law-enforcement officers in the Seattle/Bellevue/Everett region is $29.99 an hour, with most earning $22.08 to $38.11 an hour.
"Or maybe we'll find someone with a maritime background – or a little kid who grew up always dreaming of working on boats," Sinn said. "In that case, our marine harbor unit could be the right place for you."
In the King County Sheriff's Office, for example, specialists on the bomb squad, in the drug lab, on K-9 or scuba-diving teams earn the highest premium bonus pay for their expertise.
Most departments require at least three to five years in patrol before they can apply for specialized squads, Sinn said.
Suburban departments, such as Lake Forest Park, focus on promoting the kind of small-town advantages their positions offer.
"Our people truly like the community aspect of law enforcement," Peterson said. "We are out there with a strong sense of connectivity to our neighborhoods. When our people sign on the dotted line, they know they're going to be able to take a case and work the whole case start to finish. These are people who aren't looking for big-city life. They like working on a smaller team, where the decision they make can really make a difference."
Such a connection appealed to Officer Amy Menesee, who completed her six-month paid training at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission Academy in Burien last month. She opted for a beat with Lake Forest Park because she likes the "small-town feel" she grew up with in Montesano, Grays Harbor County.
A sociology major with a degree from the University of Washington, Menesee was drawn to law enforcement while hearing her dad's stories about his work as a county prosecutor.
"But police work always interested me more," she says. "You're the first person there, the first person investigating. I've always been interested in why people commit crime, but I also like working in a place where neighbors know their police officers."
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