The Blaine police department will most likely be understaffed over the next few months, as the department is currently looking to fill two officer openings, and expects a third opening later this spring.
Blaine police sergeant Michael Munden said the openings occurred after two officers left for other law enforcement positions, including one who took a job at the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office and one who took a position in Alaska. The third position will open in April after lieutenant Ryan King retires and is replaced by another officer who will be promoted, opening up an entry-level position. The department typically has 14 commissioned officers.
The department announced it was hiring in early February.
Munden said although the department will be understaffed in the short term, it expects to be able to cover every shift and meet emergency needs. He also said it is not uncommon for a department to lose two or three officers in a year.
“After losing a few, we might go a few years without losing anyone,” he said.
In its candidate search, Munden said the department has received 21 applications from people with no previous policing experience, and three applications from people with law enforcement backgrounds. If the department hires someone with no previous experience, the new employee must receive a year of training, Munden said, including five months at a police academy.
The process of filling the empty positions is expected to take longer than usual: Munden said due to the financial impact the pandemic has had on the city budget, the department does not have the ability to fill all of the openings at once.
Nationally, many police departments have reported having more difficulty hiring qualified officers, according to a 2019 report by the Police Executive Research Forum. Munden said this is happening mostly in larger cities like Seattle and less so in smaller communities like Blaine.
“Many officers are now looking to leave big cities and work in smaller communities,” he said. “Historically, the opposite has been true.”
Hiring issues are also happening at the county sheriff’s office, according to spokesperson Deb Slater. Slater said a decrease in the number of candidates applying alongside an increase in competition from other agencies, with some offering signing bonuses, is causing the office to reevaluate its recruitment and outreach.
The sheriff’s office currently has six vacancies – four in patrol and two in corrections – it is looking to fill as quickly as possible, Slater said. Due to these vacancies, the department has made a number of cutbacks on specialty assignments, including a Point Roberts deputy, a detective and a mental health deputy. Slater said these positions will be reassigned when the current vacancies are filled.
The pandemic has also continued to be an issue to some degree. The county government froze five corrections positions because of pandemic budget concerns. The sheriff’s office was also concerned about restricting in-person training of new hires at the state’s training program for entry-level officers, but Slater said virtual training became easier as the pandemic progressed. The virtual shift has allowed the office to streamline some of the hiring processes, Slater said, with virtual scheduling allowing for at-home written testing and remote physical testing at gyms.
“Recruitment has become more challenging,” Slater said. “But the first step in the application process has also been very successful pivoting through the pandemic.”
This article has been updated to reflect the sheriff's office has six deputy vacancies, not four as previously reported. We regret the error.