Why the Seattle Police Department should have no problem hiring 200 more officers

Jun 30, 2016, 5:36 AM | Updated: 8:28 am

Law enforcement agencies across Washington have long said how difficult it is to find new hires.

But the City of Seattle doesn’t have that problem.

“When you are making $70,000 the day you graduate from the academy as your base pay that’s pretty good,” said Seattle Detective Carrie McNally. “There’s not a lot of other jobs you are going to walk into and get paid this well.”

Related: Pierce County Sheriff’s Office facing low deputy levels

Seattle Police Officers Guild President Ron Smith will back up McNally’s statement, agreeing that Emerald City cops are well-paid. After four and a half years, a Seattle police officer could be making up to $90,000.

The Seattle attraction

McNally handles recruiting for the Seattle Police Department, a job that is increasingly important as Mayor Ed Murray has promised to add 200 officers over attrition by 2019. The department has been criticized for lacking enough officers, and McNally is charged with getting more people interested in patrolling Seattle. It turns out, it’s not as with difficult as other agencies in the state.

The Washington State Patrol has reported difficulty maintaining its trooper levels in recent years. Recent studies indicate that WSP has been outpaced by other agencies when it comes to compensation. Starting pay for a state trooper is about $48,000. At the county level, starting pay for a King County sheriff’s deputy is $61,400. Word also gets around and state troopers are reporting low satisfaction.

But in Seattle, it’s a different story.

“The benefits and pay are far higher than most people assume in law enforcement,” McNally said. “We do typically have a higher pay than any law enforcement agency in the state — we are the biggest agency.”

“Especially with state patrol,” she added. “They are a great department with great people, but our pay and benefits are far superior right now. And we see that across the country … almost all of the places across the country that we’ve been heavily advertising, we’re more than double what they get paid.”

Take Boston for example. Seattle is often compared to the East Coast city for its size and population. The pay for a Boston patrol officer is between $47,000-67,000 (median pay of $56,800). In Chicago, the median pay is $55,000. Seattle’s Northwest neighbor, Portland, pays its officers a median salary of $54,000. New York City has some of the highest paid police officers in the nation, but their rookies come on to the force at $45,600.

Hiring in Seattle

McNally said that SPD is hiring about 100 officers per year over the next few years. But remember, Mayor Murray’s goal is to hire 200 over attrition. Seattle has to replace the officers it is losing, and then hire even more.

About 30 percent of the SPD force is eligible to retire. But Seattle cops are not required to tell the department exactly when they plan to leave. The department cannot hire ahead of time. This means McNally has to be prepared with a stock of candidates.

To do this, she holds a range of recruiting events – more than 100 per year. But the department is organizing even more given their hiring goals. SPD posts recruiters at events such as the Fourth of July and Pride weekend.

“We are ending up with 300-400 candidates each time we are testing,” she said. “And we are hiring great candidates — we are on track for our hiring. We have been for quite some time. And the quality of candidates is outstanding.”

McNally points back to the city’s pay and benefits as main the reasons that quality is so high. SPD gets seven spots at the state’s law enforcement academy to train new officers — a process that takes about 4.5 months. If those spots are filled, the department will bring a new hire into the force and get them indoctrinated into the department while they wait for an opening. Lateral officers — police from other agencies — don’t have to go through the academy. That saves time and money for SPD. Attracting those candidates away from their departments across the country is another method of getting new cops in Seattle.

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Why the Seattle Police Department should have no problem hiring 200 more officers