Shortage for long arm of the law?

With retirements looming, peninsula law enforcement entities are seeking local candidates

Shortage for long arm of the law?

County sheriffs and city police chiefs on the North Olympic Peninsula are looking for a few good men and women.

With a generation of peace officers set to retire in the next few years, officials said there is a growing demand for qualified replacements.

“It’s a rewarding career,” said Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict, a retired Naval flight officer.

History has shown that the best officers come from their own community, Benedict said.

The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office held tests for potential patrol and corrections deputies on Feb. 13, and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the Sequim, Port Angeles, Port Townsend and Forks police departments are clients of Public Safety Testing, a similar service for public safety employees. Public Safety Testing will conduct a physical and written exam for law enforcement, corrections and communications officers Feb. 21 at Port Angeles High School.

For more information about the Feb. 21 event, visit www.publicsafetytesting.com.

Some agencies on the North Olympic Peninsula are finding it difficult to replace the number of officers from the baby boom generation who are retiring, Benedict said.

“We also have capacity issues right now,” Benedict said. “There is a strain on the academy to get the people through.”

Larger cities and state patrols are struggling with negative publicity surrounding police incidents with bad outcomes and the protests that follow, Benedict added.

The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office will need to replace as many as nine deputies within the next two years, Cameron said.

“We encourage West End folks to apply, too,” Cameron said. “Those positions are sometimes hard to fill, but when people start working out there they tend to stay out there.”

The office has 36 field deputies and 44 corrections deputies.

An entry-level Clallam County sheriff’s deputy earns between $54,461 and $66,198 per year.

Entry level corrections deputies earn between $21.86-$26.64 per hour.

“We have so much more success as far as the longevity of patrol deputies and correction deputies when they’re local,” said Clallam County Sheriff’s Office Chief Criminal Deputy Brian King.

“They know the area. They know the culture and the people here.”

Lateral transfers are another challenge for police agencies, which compete with each other for skilled officers.

The younger generation is especially prone to switching departments when opportunities open, King said.

 

City challenges

“We face exactly the same challenge that the sheriff faces,” said Brian Smith, Port Angeles Deputy Chief of Police. “It’s a continual challenge to attract excellent people.”

The Port Angeles Police Department soon will have three vacancies on its force of 32 sworn officers.

“The fact that we have vacancies, that’s just totally normal,” Smith said. “Policing is a hard job. It’s physically hard, it’s mentally hard and it’s emotionally hard.”

Sequim police have developed a succession plan for several expected vacancies in the next five years, Detective Sgt. Sean Madison said.

“We’re doing fine,” Madison said of the 19-officer department. “We’ve been blessed in having really good applicants.”

Interim Port Townsend Police Chief Mike Evans said his department of 15 officers is actively recruiting two more officers.

The Forks Police Department, which has six officers including a sergeant, is hiring for two more officers, agency spokesman Kelsey Pearson said.

 

Cooperation key

Officials in both counties expressed a need for female officers, particularly corrections officers.

“We’re trying to attract women in law enforcement,” Smith said. “That’s a demographic that’s harder to attract.”

While some law enforcement officers prefer an urban beat, Cameron and others said the quality of life on the North Olympic Peninsula attracts its share of candidates.

“I picked the area,” said Smith, a former special agent at Yellowstone National Park.

Madison and others said the law enforcement agencies on the North Olympic Peninsula have good working relationships and share common values.“The level of cooperation that we have on the Olympic Peninsula between all law enforcement agencies — police departments, sheriffs and our federal partners — is just incredible,” Madison said. “Everybody really gives a damn.”

 

Rob Ollikainen is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

 

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