Following the approval last year of a police hire-ahead program, the Spokane Police Department has reached its full staffing level of 310 officers, interim Chief Rick Dobrow told the city’s Public Safety Committee this week.
The department swore in six officers hired from other law enforcement agencies this week, bringing the number of city police officers to its highest level since at least since 1995, according to department and FBI statistics. The number of officers includes all uniformed staff regardless of rank, but not civilian administrative staff.
Three hundred officers has long been the city’s benchmark for full department staffing, but last year, Mayor David Condon proposed $450,000 for a hire-ahead program designed to keep staffing levels stable by hiring cadets before departing officers leave. That funding was approved in the 2015 budget passed by the City Council, allowing the department to bring the ranks to 310.
“It’s a lengthy process to go from recruitment to actually putting an officer or firefighter into service, so if you wait until your numbers start to wane you’re always playing catch-up,” said Brian Coddington, the mayor’s spokesman.
Hiring ahead helps ensure stability in the Police Department, Coddington said.
“It’s something that allows us to be able to be consistent in how we deploy resources and put them in the right places to achieve the ultimate goal of driving down crime,” he said.
Police and city officials have cited low officer numbers as a reason for the department’s overtime expenditures. Last year, 90 percent of the department earned at least some overtime, including a police communications supervisor who took home $50,000 in overtime pay.
According to FBI statistics, until this year the department has had more than 300 uniformed officers only once in the past 20 years when it had 303 in 2003.
After several years of hiring, the city had nearly 300 police officers working in 2009. But those numbers fell again after budget cuts in subsequent years under former Mayor Mary Verner and Condon. The low point came in 2013, after a divided City Council passed a budget that cut 19 vacant officer positions. By the end of the year, the city had just 273 officers.
The city spent $2.5 million on 26 new officer positions last year in hopes of bringing its number of officers to 300.
Councilman Jon Snyder, who chairs the city’s public safety committee, said he was happy to see the department at full staffing but added it would have happened sooner without the budget cuts in 2013, which he called “a bad idea.”
“I’m thrilled that we’re finally there,” he said.
Snyder added many cities coming out of the recession made a choice to lower standards to hire more officers, a mistake he said Spokane has avoided.
“We could have ramped up a lot quicker if we just lowered our standards for lateral transfers,” he said, referring to the hiring of officers from other law enforcement agencies.
The department’s new lateral transfers include a homicide detective from the Idaho State Police, a narcotics officer from Baltimore and a patrol sergeant and bomb squad commander from Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Among the new officers is Ryan Smith, who worked as a Spokane County sheriff’s deputy for 15 years. Smith was sued in August by the family of a dog he shot and killed after it bit him while he was returning keys to a home in Green-acres in 2014. Prosecutors did not seek charges against Smith in the shooting, saying he was acting in a law enforcement capacity when he entered the property.
Eight new officers also graduated from law enforcement academy this week, though it will be weeks or months before they’re able to work as solo officers, police spokesman Cpl. Jordan Ferguson said.
“That gives us lots of time to plan our deployment of these officers to meet the needs of the city,” Ferguson said in an email.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.