Recruitment issues at SPD? Not when it comes to women in blue

Sep 3, 2019, 6:06 PM | Updated: 10:35 pm
women recruitment, SPD...
Detective Carrie McNally and Assistant Chief Deanna Nollette. (Hanna Scott, KIRO Radio)
(Hanna Scott, KIRO Radio)

Reports of the mass exodus of existing officers and recruiting challenges often paint the Seattle Police Department as an agency struggling to recruit and retain cops.

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And while there are certainly some challenges in those areas specific to SPD — and ongoing recruitment challenges nationwide – the Seattle Police Department is actually one of the top agencies in the nation when it comes to recruiting a certain demographic: Women.

But it wasn’t always that way.

An uphill climb to equality

“I often would be the only female on nights. I worked third watch the first several years of my career, so I remember getting calls for pat-downs and searches,” said Detective Carrie McNally, who noticed the lack of women on the job as soon as she joined SPD in 1990. “Often there would be times where I would be the only female officer in the city during the evening hours.”

“I wasn’t necessarily deterred by the fact I hadn’t met a female officer, but that was something when I came on that was very purposeful for me. Up until I got hired I’d never met a female officer. So I thought, ‘well we have to change this,’” McNally continued.

During her past 29 years at SPD, McNally has always tried to find ways to encourage and support women on the job. But those efforts really kicked into high gear a few years ago when she became a full-time recruiter.

“I had always come into this agency thinking I want to leave it better than I found it, and so I asked to come to recruiting about three-and-a-half years ago because I felt that having the experiences that I did — which were very positive but I saw some improvement that we could make — I took it as a challenge,” McNally said.

She was excited back then and is now.

“I’ve been given a lot of flexibility to build things we haven’t built before, work collaboratively with other agencies to bring women up in this field – not just Seattle PD but the whole profession,” McNally explained.

When McNally first started in recruiting, one of the big tasks was how to attract more women.

“I reached out to colleagues in other organizations that were female leaders and said ‘what are you seeing, how can we do better?’” McNally said.

That eventually led to a “women in law enforcement” network, career fairs, and more.

Those efforts have not only helped with recruiting but also to support female officers all over the state and across the country.

Recruitment efforts

As for individual recruiting efforts at SPD, McNally says there are a few keys to their success.

“Our marketing strategies, the way that we do career fairs, [and] the programs that we are getting involved in,” McNally explained.

“I work with transitioning female service members, that is a very underrepresented group and they have a very high unemployment rate. Those are the kinds of areas that I think we can make a great impact,” she added.

She also does a lot of work with diversity and inclusion.

“We have to emulate what we want, we have to show what success looks like, and we have to be willing to be vulnerable at times and admit it’s not perfect. There are things we have to work on, but I think it’s about being honest and genuine,” McNally said.

For SPD, showing what success looks like for women is easier than it is for other agencies. They have a female chief, multiple high ranking women in the department, and 40 percent of their leadership team are women.

Beyond the honesty, success, and outreach, McNally says their laid back approach also helps.

“It’s okay to still be feminine; it’s okay to still be a woman. We often at career fairs, at some college fairs dress in polo shirts and BDUs. We still have a weapon, we still have all of our tactical gear on but we may be a little bit more approachable,”she said, adding she believes that’s been part of the reason for their success recruiting women.

That success has been pretty impressive too, leading top police agencies in Washington state and beyond to turn to McNally and SPD for tips on recruiting women.

“When I came to our unit [recruitment] … 8 percent of our new hires at the time in 2016 were women. [In] 2017 it was 17 percent, 2018 was 17 percent, and this year as of the end of April we’re sitting at 26 percent of our candidates are women,” McNally said.

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“Currently, 15 percent of our department are women,” she added.

That’s more than 217 women on the force of just under 1,400.

With 95 women, they make up just under 9 percent of Washington State Patrol troopers, while women make up just over 11 percent of King County Sheriff’s Office deputies.

McNally says they’re thrilled to see the number of females recruited continue to grow, but admits that overall, recruitment is a challenge across the country.

Part of addressing that at SPD is about protecting morale, which has taken a hit in recent years.

Police morale

“There have been a lot of challenges to the agency, and like any other large agencies we’ve had growing pains, and we’ve had to figure out what are we doing right? What aren’t we doing right? What changes do we need to make?,” explained Assistant Chief Deanna Nollette. “What I can tell you is we have a strong leadership team in place. We have an incredible shared vision about growth mindsets, not just for us as individuals on the leadership team, but throughout the agency. The agency is learning and evolving.”

So much so, that SPD is now considered a leader in many of areas that used to be challenges for the department.

“We have visitors daily that come from all over the world to look at how we do everything from our Crisis Intervention Training, our de-escalation training, our implicit biased training, but also our tactical training, our crowd management skills, [and] our intelligence work,” Nollette said.

“We are a national, if not an international leader in all of those areas. This is a premier law enforcement agency, and I really think that the recruiting numbers and the success that we’re having is a reflection of that,” Nollette added.

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That’s not to say there aren’t challenges, such as prolific offenders.

“We actually control a very small percentage of what happens,” Nollette explained, pointing out SPD has no control over what charges are filed by city or county prosecutors, what judge’s do with those cases when charges are filed, or what type of release conditions are placed on that person.

“I think really what needs to happen is there needs to be a much more collaborative approach,” Nollette said.

Consent decree

The ongoing federal consent decree is also top of mind.

“I think it’s important. It was a necessary process,” Nollette noted. “I think that we are coming out of it a better department. I think our training is incredibly improved. I think our responsiveness is improved, our professionalism is improved, certainly our report writing, our record keeping and our data collection are radically improved. So, I think it was a necessary process. I think it’s time for us to continue to carry the torch, and to continue to develop the department to be the leading department in the country.”

Nollette says morale got a big boost in July when Chief Carmen Best, amid tensions over the consent decree and police accountability, made a very public show of support for officers.

“I don’t want to see another good talented officer leave this organization because they don’t believe that the city supports the work that they’re doing. And it’s really difficult work, and they’re doing a tremendous job, and that needs to be acknowledged,” Chief Best said at the July press conference, following a weekend of violence against officers.

It made Nollette’s heart sing.

“We certainly are not perfect as individuals or as a collective, but the truth is we do amazing work, and we do it with skill, with compassion and with professionalism, and it was so gratifying to hear that actually just publicly stated, definitively,” Nollette recalled.

It was a feeling that reverberated throughout the department.

“I think it was incredibly appreciated by every man and woman who works in this department — sworn or civilian — who knows the quality of the people we have and the quality of the work that we’re doing,” Nollette said. “I think she [Chief Best] did it at no small risk to herself politically, but I think that her heart truly beats for the citizens of this city and the men and women who work for this department, and it was necessary for her to take that stance.”

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Recruitment issues at SPD? Not when it comes to women in blue