News

The chief puts out a dragnet for more police officers

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

Police chief Anne Kirkpatrick has told the Federal Way City Council that she might consider overhiring officers or creating reserve officer and police cadet programs to boost police staffing.

But she emphasized the current goal is simply to get the department up to full speed.

City officials have stated their interest in increasing the number of cops on the streets in Federal Way, but council members will have to find a way to bring in more money before the city will be able to afford it. And before anything else, city officials are going to have to find a way to shake the department’s reputation for overworking its officers.

Over the years, the Police Department has developed a reputation for being understaffed and officers working overtime. That’s making it hard to attract experienced officers, which is compounding the chronic shortage in the department. Officers currently work overtime and double shifts to provide minimum levels of coverage because of several vacancies in the department.

Last last year, the department’s three police guilds told the council the city needs to hire more officers to provide the level of service the city wants.

The city’s operating budget allocates enough money to pay for 119 sworn officers. The department is currently down several officers, but there are a handful of recruits preparing to go into the police academy this spring, followed by field training with an experienced officer. They’ll be ready to patrol on their own this fall.

In addition, city officials are hoping to find a way to provide the department with the funding for 10 more officers to respond to crime, ease the workload on existing officers and bring back proactive enforcement teams that target drugs, prostitution, gang activity and identity theft crimes. Ten officers would cost the city an estimated $1 million.

Once the department is fully staffed, Kirkpatrick told the council last month, the Police Department could consider other ways to boost its numbers:

• A reserve police officer is a sworn officer who serves only when called upon — sort of like a National Guard reservist.

• A police cadet is a college student interested in becoming an officer who works in a uniformed, civilian position part-time.

• Overhiring is another long-term staffing idea. The council could authorize the chief to hire more officers than there are vacancies — overhire — with the understanding a certain number of officers quit each year.

Finding the magic overhire number will be tricky, officials concede. Each officer costs about $85,000 to train, pay and equip. Remaining overhired for a long period of time could be detrimental to the department’s budget.

“We’d have to start with the best guess for how far you’d want to go,” interim city manager Derek Matheson said. “It would be trial and error, and there would be some financial impact.”

There probably would have to be some tweaking to get the right balance, but administrators know a certain percentage of employees turns over each year, and it wouldn’t be a total shot in the dark to predict how many officers might leave on an annual basis.

“It’s making some assumptions, but they’re pretty educated assumptions,” Matheson said.

Officials are researching the staffing options and are scheduled to make a report to the council’s Parks, Recreation and Public Safety Committee later this month.

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