February 22, 2009 in City, News

Interest in police careers surges

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Christopher Anderson photo

Spokane Police Officers John Griffin ( left ) and Ken Applewhaite ( right ) work through a checklist of the operation of the Total Station used to collect data at police scenes ranging from fatal traffic to homicide investigations. After years of struggling to recruit new police officers, area agencies are reporting a surge of applications.
(Full-size photo)

A career that involves putting your life on the line has apparently become more appealing, as long as it offers decent pay and job stability.

Applications for police work are climbing after several years of struggling to recruit people to law enforcement, according to most Inland Northwest police agencies.

In the past 12 months, the Spokane Police Department received nearly double the applications it did over the same period the year before. The Coeur d’Alene police saw 36 percent more interest.

The economy is the main reason for the increase, local and national officials say. Spokane also had ramped up its recruitment efforts.

“People are more motivated to do police work,” said Spokane police Lt. Judi Carl, who oversees the Spokane Police Academy.

“It’s a good job with benefits,” said Scott Decker, a professor with Arizona State University School of Criminology, who has published articles on police recruitment. “In bad economic times, those are the kind of jobs that appeal to people.”

For 46-year-old Scott Nunneley, applying for a deputy position with the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department wasn’t completely out of the blue. He’d been thinking about working in law enforcement, he said.

After the builder was laid off several times in recent months, Nunneley decided “the timing was right,” adding that benefits and retirement plans are definitely enticing.

The money and “the stableness in a bad economy cannot be underestimated,” Decker said.

Nunneley passed the physical tests last week to qualify for the job.

A newly hired officer with Spokane or Coeur d’Alene police starts at nearly $20.50 per hour plus benefits and retirement, officials say. After five years, a Spokane officer can make as much as $70,000 a year. The hourly wage for deputies in Kootenai and Spokane counties is between $19.65 and $22.50 to start, officials said.

After a small peak in late 2002 and early 2003, the number of applicants for police work dropped locally. The Iraq war and the “footloose” attitude of authority-disrespecting Generation Xers were blamed for the lack of interest, according to previously published reports. Now, with soldiers slowly returning home and the economy tanking, applications have begun to increase.

The uptick started in mid-2008 and accelerated early this year, according to application numbers from the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene police departments as well as the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department.

Spokane’s recruitment efforts began in late 2007. Spokane police started going to job fairs, high schools and colleges to draw potential candidates.

“We concentrated efforts locally,” Carl said. Online sign-up is now also available.

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office saw a drop in applicants from 369 in 2003 to 98 last year. The Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department has seen a similar pattern.

“I’m sure we will see more (applicants) this year,” said Nancy Paladino, Spokane County’s chief examiner. The county is in the process of taking applications for deputy positions, which is done annually.

The number of positions open for officers in Kootenai and Spokane counties as well as the cities of Spokane and Coeur d’Alene are moving targets right now. But the agencies keep a list of those who pass the test if they are able to hire in the future.

Decker predicts the number of people seeking law enforcement work will continue to grow because police careers are attractive to military veterans. “The pool of applicants will grow even more as the (Iraq) rollbacks begin,” he said.

Contact Jody Lawrence-Turner at (509) 459-5593 or jodyl@spokesman.com.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email