Seattle Lawmakers OK Legislation to Improve Police Recruitment

May 23, 2024
"It's about removing barriers and processes so we can choose the best from a small pool of candidates who are applying to many agencies in the region," said Seattle City Council President Sara Nelson.

In an effort to boost recruitment to the Seattle Police Department, the Seattle City Council approved new legislation Tuesday that would massage the bureaucratic process between fielding applications and actually hiring new officers.

By their own acknowledgment, the new law is a dial adjustment in the face of much larger challenges involving the city's ability to recruit and retain officers. But where the council's ability to change its outward reputation or woo veteran officers away from neighboring departments is limited, it does have a direct hand in the hiring process.

"I'm focusing on what we can fix, which is the recruitment and hiring processes before us," said Council President Sara Nelson. "It's about removing barriers and processes so we can choose the best from a small pool of candidates who are applying to many agencies in the region."


The challenge the council is trying to solve is not only how to attract new applicants but how to convert more into working officers. The process between when someone says they're interested in a job and when they're hired can take months. Of the 2,000 applications submitted to the department last year, just 61 eventually joined the force — even as 97 others left, leading to a net loss.

That conversion rate — about 3% — has stayed consistent for the last decade. But the raw number of applicants was nearly 4,000 at the department's peak in 2017.

The result: The department has shrunk from about 1,300 officers to fewer than 1,000.

The most disputed piece of the new law relates to which test new recruits take when they apply. The one currently used, the National Testing Network, was developed in 2012 by the department and is now used by many large departments on the West Coast. The majority of other Washington departments use a different test, the Public Safety Test.

Nelson has wanted the city to offer the Public Safety Test, on the belief it would be easier for people to apply to Seattle as they also apply to neighboring departments. Initially, the bill would have mandated that switch.

But testing is overseen by the city's independent Public Safety Civil Service Commission, and there were legal questions about whether the council could require changing tests. The head of the commission, Andrea Scheele, has asked for time to study the differences between the tests and whether they're asking the kinds of questions Seattle wants its applicants to answer or whether switching would have an effect on the quality of officers.

As a result, the bill now encourages the commission to consider offering the Public Safety Test but does not require it.

The new law also moves three recruitment positions from the city's human resources department to the police department. The city has budgeted millions in recent months for recruitment, including by hiring a chic marketing firm, Copacino Fujikado, to run ads locally and nationally.

Finally, the bill creates a new position in the city's human resources department with the goal of making contact with every applicant within 48 hours.

The council Tuesday also added a requirement that the department regularly report on its efforts to address allegations of gender discrimination. The department has faced multiple lawsuits alleging sexual harassment and gender discrimination, in addition to several related to alleged racial discrimination.

Mayor Bruce Harrell recently signed off on hiring an outside investigator to look into the gender discrimination allegations.

The biggest question surrounding recruitment is what effect a new agreement between the city and the Seattle Police Officers Guild will have. The agreement, signed by the mayor last week, increased pay by 23% overnight. The department used to be the 29th highest paying in the state; now it's the first.


(c)2024 The Seattle Times

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