Police hiring pool is getting better
An increase in retirements and an improving economy will likely result in higher police officer turnover in agencies throughout Washington state, including Mukilteo’s.
The Mukilteo Police Department has three openings for police officers. Two officers recently retired, and one quit to be a stay-at-home mom. The department is in the hiring process now.
“The impact of three people leaving at the same time is pretty significant,” Police Chief Rex Caldwell said. “It’s 15 percent of our workforce. We’re scrambling now to move office jobs back to patrol.”
Mukilteo is not alone in this trend. As officers retire, the economy is picking up – which means many law enforcement agencies in Washington state are getting ready for a round of hiring.
“For the first time in many years we are seeing an up-tick in hiring, an up-tick in interest, and there is light at the end of the tunnel,” said Jon Walters, president of Public Safety Testing, which issues standardized tests for potential police officers in Washington.
“We have been through the Great Recession, and we’re still struggling with some of that, but many departments are now hiring.”
Forty Washington police departments list openings for police officers on the PST website.
Mill Creek, Marysville and Kirkland have two openings each. Mount Vernon has four, Redmond has five. Olympia is looking for six police officers and Yakima needs seven. Vancouver has the most openings at eight.
“If no one is hiring, the pool is smaller because no one is applying, but when there are openings, there is a lot more interest,” said Walters, a former Mukilteo police chief.
Police departments are also seeing an increasing number of retirees.
Of the 12,000 police officers in Washington, about 10 percent are old enough to retire. In Mukilteo, three officers are eligible for retirement but have continued to work.
With an improving economy, Walters said retirement is starting to look better for older officers, Walters said. He predicts a significant up-tick in police retirements over the next five years – and coincidentally, more job openings.
“There’s a whole lot of openings coming soon,” Caldwell said. “We’re going to see it in our future, too.”
At the height of the Great Recession, the state Police Academy was forced to cancel classes because there weren’t enough “new hires” to train for the job, said Caldwell, who ran the Police Academy in 2009 and 2010.
Department budgets were slashed, and officer recruitment nearly stopped. Too many experienced officers who had recently been laid off were in the hiring pool, giving the newbies not much of a chance.
Now it’s the other way around, Caldwell said. All of the Police Academy classes fill up – and fast.
“If there’s a lot of folks in the pool, departments – rightfully so – can be much more picky, and that’s what’s happening,” Walters said.
“Departments told us that because they had so few openings, and still many people interested, they could literally pick the cream of the crop.”
The Mukilteo Police Department is seeing the effects of a larger pool.
Mukilteo has seen as many as 40 applications for one officer position, Caldwell said. Only the top 10 or 15 will get interviews. From there, he said, the best of the best is hired.
The Mukilteo Police Department is going through that process now. The department has made two job offers, and more interviews are scheduled this week.
The job offers are conditional: Candidates must first pass numerous tests and complete three months of training at the state Criminal Justice Training Center in Burien.
This honeymoon phase won’t last for long, Walters warns.
He said the hiring pool is reducing in size and will continue to get smaller as the economy improves. Baby Boomers are retiring in high numbers and those entering the workforce are only a fraction of that.
“The competition for positions is going to be even [higher],” he said. “We’re competing in a pool that is smaller than it was decades ago, so that’s a challenge for hiring folks.”
He emphasized, however, that while the pool may be smaller, it’s quality that departments are looking for, not quantity.
“I see some incredible people I would hire in a heartbeat, as a police chief,” he said. “As someone who is passionate about this profession, that is really exciting.”
Public Safety Testing is an independent testing service that provides public safety agencies in Washington, Idaho and Alaska with standardized tests to help simplify the hiring process for police and fire departments, sheriff’s offices, 911 call centers, corrections departments and jails.