The number of graduates from the Basic Law Enforcement Academy in Washington has steadily grown over the past five years, but few of the graduates find their way to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich speculates that some are drawn to larger paychecks at other agencies, and he has committed $100,000 to better outreach and hiring efforts.
Part of the outreach effort is a team of senior deputies: Spokane Valley Police Department Deputy Craig Chamberlin, Sgt. Brett E. Gores and Sgt. Scott Szoke, who is the shift commander at the Spokane Valley Police Department. The Valley department is operated by the sheriff’s office by contract.
Among the three of them, they have more than 40 years experience on the force. In May, they made a presentation to the Spokane Valley City Council about their recruiting efforts.
“We never had to hire like this before,” Szoke told the council. “People lined up around the building but that doesn’t happen anymore.”
Even 100 applicants isn’t impressive, Szoke added, because only one of out every 39 “makes the car” and becomes a deputy.
Szoke said hiring the millennial generation is a problem, because law enforcement wages often aren’t competitive with private industry and younger people are turned off by shift work.
Office jobs like crime analyst remain popular.
“They don’t want to be foot soldiers,” Gores said, adding that even solid recruiting sources like the military are drying up. “But we do keep in constant contact with the military bases.”
A job fair held by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office in late June brought almost 75 people to the gym of the former middle school that now houses the Sheriff’s Office Training Center.
There they listened to the Sheriff’s Office recruiting team tell them why they should work in Spokane County, and they asked questions about what happens if a potential recruit has a previous drug arrest or DUI on his or her record, how the testing process works and where they would attend a police academy.
Russell Swanson, who has worked as a nurse for 23 years, was in the audience mulling his options.
In one of his previous jobs, he was a nurse at a jail, Swanson said, and that job was something like being a social worker.
“Maybe it’s a fit,” he said of policing. “I’ve been protecting my community healthwise. I think this is just a different level of protection.”
Before a candidate is considered she or he must take a written test and a physical test, have an oral interview, pass a background test and pass a psychological exam. It’s a lengthy process that few make it through.
Then, to get a spot at the Spokane Police Academy for formal training, a candidate must have a job offer from a law enforcement agency.
Sometimes good candidates get poached by other agencies while they are at the academy, Knezovich said.
It costs the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office roughly $3,500, plus wages of $3,780 a month and benefits, for the five-and-a-half months a candidate spends at the academy.
“It’s an investment for us, and there is no guarantee they will come back to us,” Knezovich said.
The first hurdle before the academy is the written test and background check.
At the job fair, Sgt. Gores urged applicants to be completely honest when filling out paperwork.
“Do not try to hide anything from us,” he said. “We will find it. Everyone makes mistakes. Own your mistakes. We’ve all made them.”
Gores said he’s had people leave off a speeding ticket they got when they were 17 because they were afraid it would look bad.
The department doesn’t care about a decade-old speeding ticket, Gores said, but neglecting to reveal the information disqualifies prospects. Lying on forms eliminates half of all applicants, Gores said.
Chamberlin suggested recruits go through their social media accounts and get rid of anything questionable. Social media is the first thing a department looks at, he said.
Recruits need to have common sense, be professional and not expect a structured schedule.
And the job isn’t all excitement, Chamberlin said.
“We are more social workers than anything,” he said. “We’re MacGyvers. We’re problem-solvers.”
A deputy’s mouth and brain are their biggest tools, Gores said.
“It’s not like the movies,” he added. “It’s people calling 911 because their 11-year-old won’t load the dishwasher.”
The Sheriff’s Office never used to have to actively recruit, Gores said, and he realizes the new recruits have a choice of a wide range of positions in many agencies.
“You’re in the driver’s seat,” Gores said. “You can work wherever you want. Please come here.”
Christopher Zocher, a young single father who grew up in a military family, attended the sheriff’s office job fair. He’s worked at a call center and in pest control, but knows he doesn’t want to make those jobs a career.
“I just want to do something that lets me help people,” he said. “I’ve thought about it quite a bit. If this paid less than what I’m betting, I’d still do it.”
Zocher said he planned to take the written test when it was offered in mid-July. After that, he was hopeful that he could make it through the process.
Nina Culver contributed to this report.
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