By Jack Mayne
The Des Moines Council meeting at their study session Thursday (Feb. 1) unanimously apporoved a plan to set up a police recruit training program for entry level officers that would be in a seperate budget category than the city police budget.
The plan will have the Council approve special funds to pay officers hired but not yet fully trained.
City Police departments in South King County and at the King County Sheriff’s Office must pay the full salary and benefits to new hires for new police for the entire time they are waiting and in the training academy in Burien and during field training – meaning people are on the city payroll for up to a year or maybe even more before they are allowed to patrol alone, a normal process in small and even some larger departments like Kent.
Additionally, there is a dearth of people wanting to be police officers, perhaps for societal reasons and recent publicity of police shootings and other negative incidents.
If cities, like Des Moines, do not put new hires on the payroll while waiting for training, other departments will and the city would lose that potential officer.The department begins some of the training on city police processes while waiting for the academy.
Des Moines Assistant Police Chief Bob Bohl (pictured above) retired on Wednesday (Jan. 31), but was asked by City Manager Michael Matthias to brief the Council on his study of the costs of problems of recruiting and hiring new police officers to the city’s department, whether as lateral hired from another department or new rookies.
This issue is one that plagues most other police departments in South King County, and observers say the problem is one most police agencies face.
Matthias said Bohl worked this “important plan” to the last moment before retiring, gaining applause from the Council and city staff at the (Feb. 1) Council study session.
Bohl noted that in the 2017 city budget the Council approved three additional officers to increase the patrol staff and at midyear allocated an addition to the detective staff, an increase of the department by four people.
“Due to the hiring challenges after that full year we were only able to fill two of those positions,” Bohl told the Council, and there are two vacant positions.
The hiring of officers from another department means they have already gone through the police academy but must undergo Des Moines Police field training which will put them out on the street without supervision by July of this year.
He said that the research found that “40 percent of our commisioned staff are eligible to retire in the next three to five years.”
Losing that many in a few years “is scary,” Bohl added.
A new hire is not expected to be a full-fledged officer until around January, 2019.
Bohl said the department is still waiting for one of the new hires to get into the police academy, a normal wait of about six months due to limitations of the King County police academy located in Burien.
Before a person can become a King County deputy or member of a city police force, the individual must complete 720 hours of basic law enforcement academy training within six months of hire but there often is more demand than availability for training, many police agencies say.
If a trained officer is hired from another state it is up to the local academy to decide if they accept that state’s academy training. If so, the new officer only must go through local field training, shortening the time to get the new hired officer on full duty.
Deputy Mayor Vic Pennington wondered if a potential officer could be sent to be trained in Oregon or Idaho, and Bohl said probably not because they must be residents of the other state.
Police Chief George Delgado said Spokane is looking at an agreement with Idaho because of the cost of sending people to the Seattle area “and many departments are watching” that potential.
Normandy Park faces the same problem of hiring a person but having to wait up to a year – sometimes more than a year – to get that new officer patrol alone, a virtual necessity for most police departments.
He said the department is proposing a “recruit training program” for entry level officers not cleared for full duty. He said many others on the Des Moines department are able to retire in two years. The proposalwould mean the new but still not considered full police officers. would be in a seperate budget category from active officers.
The proposal would use one-time available money budgeted from city funds for those training officers and not regular tax income to Des Moines. Once they finished the academy and field training, their position would be transferred to the regular city budget, Bohl said. Having the new hires on the city payroll allows additional familiarization of policies and use of equipment which Bohl said makes the field training after the academy “go much smoother.”
The training program budget would need an estimated $423,000 per year for four newly hired people who are undergoing training. The “one-time” money would be budgeted by the Council from its income from red light camera violations, said Matthias, adding that the citys finances are currently in good condition.
Some councilmembers wondered if this could become an on-going part of the city budget and Bohl said that would be up to the police department to work with the council in future years.
Pennington and Councilmember Luisa Bangs said that potential worried them.
Delgado said this will show potential candidates and the public at large that Des Moines is more marketable and appealing to candidates. It also would be a sign to current officers that “help is coming.”
Mayor Matt Pina this the move to create the training fund is “absolutely necessary” following many difficult decisions to get the city finances in shape “we can do something like this” to keep the city police department organization healthy.
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