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Spokane City Council authorizes 10 new ‘hire-ahead’ positions for police department

UPDATED: Tue., March 15, 2022

The police version of the Tesla sedan is currently being tested by the police department in Spokane, Washington. Photographed Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
The police version of the Tesla sedan is currently being tested by the police department in Spokane, Washington. Photographed Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

Becoming a Spokane police officer can take between six months and a year from the time candidates take a public safety test until they’re trained, according to the department.

Aiming to start that process sooner during times when the department is fully staffed, the department is getting 10 new “hire-ahead” positions to prepare for any anticipated departures, such as retirements.

The Spokane City Council voted unanimously Monday night to create the 10 spots, which are not designed to increase the police force’s number of uniformed officers.

Rather, in the event of a planned departure and the police department is fully staffed, the open hire-ahead spots will allow SPD to hire candidates to start training toward filling anticipated vacancies.

Without these positions, the police department – unable to hire above its authorized staffing level of 356 commissioned police officers – has had to wait for vacancies to open before hiring, said police spokeswoman Julie Humphreys.

Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, a cosponsor of Monday’s legislation along with Council President Breean Beggs and Councilman Michael Cathcart, said she would like to see hire-ahead positions instituted at the Spokane Fire Department as well to, in part, lower the need for overtime.

“I believe we need to go above and beyond our currently allowed staffing levels even with this hire ahead and add additional positions as we go forward into the future,” said Cathcart, chair of the council’s Public Safety and Community Health Committee, “but I think this is a great next step. Not the last one.”

The hire-ahead positions are expected to be cost-neutral, as covered by savings from retirements and separations, according to the city.

Jacquelyn MacConnell, the director of strategic initiatives for Spokane police, said the department does not anticipate tapping into the positions until 2023 because it has 20 Basic Law Enforcement Academy spots for prospective officers per year in addition to any lateral candidates coming on from other departments.

In the event the hire-ahead positions are needed sooner, however, MacConnell said “we would be more than happy to use them.”

“It’s not a desire to wait. It really just depends on how many people we can hire,” she told council members during a Feb. 28 Finance and Administration Committee meeting. “Right now, we know of at least another 10 vacancies that are coming up.”

Local police accountability activist Anwar Peace said during a public comment period Monday while he isn’t opposed to increasing SPD’s staffing given Spokane’s size, he would like to see the hiring processes revamped.

Peace called on city leaders to consider “outside the box thinking” with hiring police officers, particularly laterals from other law enforcement agencies, while also calling for random drug and psychological testing for all police personnel.

“It doesn’t take a big incident for an officer to develop psychological issues,” Peace said. “All the little things that they go through after time can build up and manifest itself in disastrous ways.”

Both Cathcart and Beggs agreed with the notion of revisiting hiring practices.

“I think if we’re talking about 21st century public safety, we just have to fine-tune things and get it better, which is not a critique of the current officers at all,” Beggs said Monday night. “We’re just asking officers to do a lot more, especially in the human services and the mental health area, and we just need to hire with that in mind as well.”

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