The Federal Way Police Department may soon be authorized to hire an additional six officers for its short-staffed force pending the city council’s approval of a $750,000 hiring grant.
The department was awarded the grant June 2 from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). The money will fund six entry-level officer positions over a three-year period. The grant is only to be used on the officers’ salaries and benefits; equipment and training are still required to be funded by the city.
The average salary for an entry-level officer in Federal Way is about $70,000, according to Federal Way Police Cmdr. Kurt Schwan.
The full Federal Way City Council has the opportunity to accept the grant at its regular meeting July 7. If approved, the department could start using the funds as early as October, Schwan said.
“We plan to accept the grant, which will pay for six additional officers for the next three years, before their salaries would be absorbed into the budget,” said Tyler Hemstreet, communications coordinator for the Mayor’s Office. “We’re following through on a commitment the mayor and city council have made multiple times to the community to bring our ratio of officers to population to an acceptable level.”
The grant would raise Federal Way’s total number to 140 commissioned officers, or 1.42 officers per 1,000 residents. However, the department’s actual number of filled positions is well below that number.
The downward trend in use-of-force review investigations can be directly correlated to the department’s hiring, Schwan said.
In 2009, the department recorded 109 use-of-force review investigations. The downward trend over the next decade led to nearly half that amount with 56 reviews recorded in 2019, according to Schwan. On average, the department responds to about 70,000 calls for response a year.
Despite the pandemic delaying the hiring of several FWPD officer hopefuls, the department has 10 candidates ready to attend training academy when safe and able to do so, he said.
“If you hire the right people, you bring the right people into this culture we’ve already created where we have this expectation for you to do the right thing,” he said. “We look for good people; tons of people are qualified … there is nothing more important to this agency than bringing on the right people.”
The Federal Way Police Department reports that it is authorized for 134 commissioned employees, not including support staff, yet currently hovers around 113 personnel members.
The department has 67 officers assigned to patrol, 21 officers assigned to specialities and 25 assigned to detective and investigation positions. Support staff includes four employees assigned to jail transportation, two to animal services and 10 people as records specialists.
As for command staff, the department has 13 lieutenants, four commanders (one less than staffing plans of five) and three chiefs.
Current staffing numbers reflect lower numbers: 64 on patrol, nine in specialties and 18 assigned to detective and investigation positions. In addition, there are also six vacant officer positions.
With pending retirements, department transfers, several position openings and a delay in the training academy process for incoming officers, the department’s size is taking a double-digit hit, Schwan said.
“In a department of 134 people, we’re 22 bodies down right now,” Schwan said. “We would love to be able to [hire more officers], but we have a responsibility to our community to bring on the right people who are going to do right by them.”
The police training academy closed for about a month in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and recently reopened in a limited capacity. Due to the delayed academy process, Federal Way has several officers awaiting academy dates in the next month or so, and five more officers with academy dates pending more than a month away, Schwan said.
About COPS funding
The COPS grant is responsible for advancing the practice of community policing by the nation’s state, local, territorial and tribal law enforcement agencies through information and grant resources, according to the website.
The COPS Office grant allows departments to hire community policing professionals, develop and test innovative policing strategies, and provide training and technical assistance to community members, local government leaders, and all levels of law enforcement.
With the 2020 awards, the COPS Office is funding 2,732 officer positions with $393,964,911 of CHP funding grants.
The Federal Way Police Department is one of 596 COPS Hiring Program (CHP) recipients, and just one of 12 recipients in the state of Washington. Federal Way was awarded the second highest amount in Washington, only topped by the City of Everett, which was granted $6,054,160 to fund 16 officer positions.
The city must accept the grant within 45 days, or July 17.