Wanted: police officers in Edmonds
– 7 line officers
– 2 assistant chiefs
– 5-plus civilians
The upheaval from last year’s police chief search, retirements, new police reform laws and COVID have left the department seriously short of staff. Edmonds is not alone. Many departments – locally and nationally – are critically understaffed. At full staffing levels, Edmonds should have 58 officers and commanders and 13 civilian employees. Chief Michelle Bennett has said that hiring is the department’s number-one priority. Two staffers are working full time to find and vet new candidates.
Departments throughout Washington, some of them for the first time, are offering ‘signing bonuses’ to lure experienced officers as well as rookies. Everett is offering $20,000, Seattle $25,000, Mukilteo has put up $15,000. Edmonds does not offer a signing bonus – yet. Chief Bennett has said that she is working with the City Council, the Mayor and Human Resources to create a bonus pool; “to at least be competitive.” The Council would make a final decision on any signing bonus.
Complicating Edmonds’ search are new police reform laws passed this year. ”Our laws really became national news as some of the most restrictive police reform laws in in the nation.” Acting Assistant Chief Josh McClure told us.
McClure believes that label – “some of the most restrictive police reform laws in the nation” – deters officers from other states from applying to EPD. One of the new laws limits an officer’s ability to chase suspects. Another creates new definitions of “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause,” which also make it harder for police to stop potential suspects.
Chief Bennett recently told a public forum at the Edmonds Civic Roundtable that “reasonable suspicion” — an officer’s professional hunch – is no longer enough to stop a person they believe might be a suspect; that “probable cause” — evidence of a connection to a crime — is the new benchmark for stopping someone. Bennett said she hopes lawmakers will reconsider some of the perhaps unintended consequences of the new laws, adding “it is a huge safety deal; you’re putting people at risk.”
McClure said “the worst part of this whole thing is having to tell your community you’re not allowed to do some of the things” that police have been able to do in the past. He acknowledged that it is sometimes taking longer to respond to calls, but that “officers have done an incredible job within the confines of the new laws to make this work.”
The state’s approach to COVID vaccinations may also be affecting new hires from out of state. EPD does not have a vaccine mandate but follows state rules that require all public employees be vaccinated. Last month, Alaska State Troopers held a recruiting drive to try to lure away Seattle-area officers; among the incentives to move north – signing and moving bonuses and no vaccine mandates in Alaska.
Edmonds says it is moving as quickly as it can to bring the department up to full staff. But the hiring and training process takes time. From a first interview with a candidate to a job offer takes about 53 days, McClure told us. There are interviews, oral exams, background checks, polygraph tests, medical and psychological checks.
Bennett told the Civic Roundtable that the department is not “changing any hiring standards at all”; that stringent background checks are very important. As an example of that, she said, the department recently had a pool of forty candidates – but only 2 passed background checks. The department is interviewing two finalists for the open assistant chief slots vacated when Jim Lawless left for a job in Marysville and Don Anderson retired. Two more officers are scheduled to retire after the first of the year.
On the civilian side, there are openings for two records clerks, an animal control/parking enforcement staffer, and an additional part-time parking position. Edmonds recently lost the department’s Domestic Violence Coordinator as well.
Click here for Edmonds Police recruiting information.
The newest rookie officer Edmonds hired was last summer — Mason Weisberg, a Navy veteran who lives in Everett. He is now in police academy at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission. It is a five-month course, and many candidates now must wait several more months just to get a slot in the academy. Bennett says it can take almost a year between hiring a new officer, getting them through training and ready to hit the street.
Edmonds was lucky with another new hire who had already graduated from police academy training in Spokane before she moved here. That, said McClure, saved the department months of waiting time. She is going through field training now, but it will be several more weeks before she is assigned to patrol on her own.
The department also must meet or exceed competitors pay scale at a time when hundreds of cops have left jobs across the Northwest.
Edmonds police Ppay scale:
-Rookie – $6,185/month
-Lateral hires/experienced officers – $7,500/month + incentives
-Corporal – $9,000/month (top of pay grade)
-Sergeant – $10,000/month (top of pay grade)
There will be more pay changes coming. The city is currently conducting a salary study and will add a new middle management position of commander as suggested in last year’s police audit. The department is also looking at providing other incentives such as additional time off and vacation accrual.
Edmonds had hired seven new officers in 2018 and another six in 2019, but only brought aboard three last year when COVID shut down all hiring. As this city strives to get back to full staffing, McClure said that police departments statewide are “all in the same boat; a ton of people decided this past year to leave, retire or move out of state. Now, we’re all fighting over the same qualified applicants.”
— By Bob Throndsen