Supply and demand: FW police turn to creative recruiting

Federal Way police recruiter Catriona Siver stands with a new patrol car. “We’re always in competition with other departments for new officers,” she said. Below: The department’s jail transport van. - Photos by Joshua Lynch/The Mirror
Federal Way police recruiter Catriona Siver stands with a new patrol car. “We’re always in competition with other departments for new officers,” she said. Below: The department’s jail transport van.
— image credit: Photos by Joshua Lynch/The Mirror

Have a call placed on hold by the Federal Way Police Department, and the filler music will have a message: Become a police officer.

In the face of a nationwide shortage of officers, the recruiting ditty is just one of the new methods Federal Way police have turned to in order to fill job openings.

“We’ve had to get creative,” said officer Catriona Siver, the department’s full-time recruiter. “We’re always in competition with other departments for new officers.”

The department’s transport van, which moves prisoners throughout the area, has been covered in recruitment slogans and ads. New posters will be put up throughout the city within a few weeks.

The department has been beefing up its benefits package, too.

Officers living within the city limits can now drive their patrol cars home after their shift, the starting salary has been bumped up to $4,236 a month and the department will pay an officer’s tuition as part of a continuing education program.

Seemingly little things, such as the department’s seven new patrol cars or replacing officers’ boots once a year, also make the job more appealing.

“People do always ask what they would get to drive,” said Siver, who frequents job fairs in the area along with the 15 other members of the department who form the recruitment unit.

As a result of the recruiting efforts, Siver received more than 80 applications before the department’s last testing period.

But the interest doesn’t always translate into new hires, and the department still has six openings — despite hiring 12 new officers in 2008 already.

A rigorous application process often stands in the way of would-be cops, Siver said.

Of the more than 80 applicants who recently completed the written application, she said, only 35 bothered to show up to the next step — the physical test.

And once police applicants complete that, there are still interviews, a background investigation, a polygraph examination, a psychological evaluation and a medical exam to get through before heading off to the police academy.

“We’re not just looking for anybody,” Siver said. “We need honest people with integrity, people who really get a buzz from helping the community.”

A ballot measure that raised utility taxes by 1.75 percent was passed in the November 2006 elections to fund 18 more officers. However, overtime costs for field operations alone hit $202,545 by March, according to a city quarterly financial report. That’s a 61 percent increase over the year before.

Even with the additional officers, it’s possible the police department needs more to keep up with service calls.

The city employs 1.49 officers per 1,000 people while the national average is 2.3 officers per 1,000 people.

Lt. Lisa Price of the Kent Police Department, whose officer-to-resident ratio is similar to Federal Way’s, said departments in the area just haven’t been able to keep up with growth.

“Fifteen to 20 years ago, every department in the area had two or more officers for every 1,000 (residents),” she said. “Now that number has dropped below one and a half.”

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