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Seattle takes first legislative step to boost police recruitment

By David Kroman
The Seattle Times

SEATTLE —The Seattle City Council on Thursday began considering its first legislative action on police recruitment since six new councilmembers were sworn in.

The focus of the bill, introduced by Council President Sara Nelson, is how the city communicates with applicants and pushes them forward toward becoming a Seattle police officer.

As the city’s recruitment efforts fail to match the number of officers leaving the department, the goal of the bill is to grease the tracks for applicants by shortening turnaround time and making it easier for more people to send in applications.

“I’m worried about the public’s eyes glazing over with all of this minutia, but it matters,” Nelson.

Last year, Seattle received nearly 2,000 applications and made 61 hires. That conversion rate of about 3% has held steady over the last decade, but at its peak, the department was receiving more than 4,000 applications. Meanwhile, 97 officers left last year for a net loss of 36.

Of concern to city officials is the timeline between when someone applies and when they’re hired. Although shorter than it had been, it still takes between three and four months, a period when many would-be applicants may drift to other jobs.

As part of the bill, three recruitment positions currently in the city’s human resources department would be moved to the Seattle Police Department. A fourth would be created and placed in the Public Safety Civil Service Commission for contacting and engaging applicants.

The draft bill would also encourage the city’s Public Safety Civil Service Commission — an independent body tasked with administering tests for the police and fire departments, among other responsibilities — to consider offering a different entry test than the one the city currently uses. Nelson said Thursday she’d initially hoped to mandate the switch but the city’s legal department raised concerns about whether that was allowed.

The testing question has proved to be the source of some friction between the council and commission staff. The test currently used — the National Testing Network — was developed by Seattle, in part, as the city was first entering federal oversight of its department in 2012. Large departments like San Francisco and Los Angeles use the same test. Roughly 68% of applicants pass.

Regionally, more departments use a different test, the Public Safety Test. Nelson prefers that one, because she believes applicants applying in Washington could more easily add Seattle to their list of departments that should receive their scores.

Andrea Scheele, director of the Public Safety Civil Service Commission, has been conducting a study of the Public Safety Test and its compatibility with the Seattle Police Department. Though she has not come to any conclusions about the test’s standards, she had previously expressed concern “that a change without having been fully vetted could result in lower standards.” Its passage rate is 90%.

“I appreciate the council wanting to take the time to get it right,” Scheele said Thursday.

Nelson has remained adamant about the value of the different test, saying she saw no evidence it would lower standards.

Nelson and the mayor’s office are still in talks about the ordinance, she said.

The mayor’s office has hired a local marketing firm, Copacino Fujikado, to run an ongoing marketing campaign targeting possible applicants in Washington and as far away as Texas.

Last week, the city and the Seattle Police Officers Guild struck a tentative agreement that would make Seattle police officers the highest paid in the state. It is only effective retroactively for the years between 2021 and 2023. The city and the union are still at the table negotiating pay and working conditions for 2024 and beyond.


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