Tri-Cities police departments actively recruiting to raise low staffing levels
TRI-CITIES, Wash. — Over the past few years, the Tri-Cities have been experiencing a population boom. While Kennewick, Pasco and Richland have been growing, the police departments that serve these communities haven’t. In fact, all of these local departments have multiple open positions in need of filling.
They have all been reaching out over social media, encouraging new recruits to join their teams.
The Pasco Police Department normally aims to operate with 83 officers on staff, but it is currently short nine officers to 74.
Public Information Officer Sgt. Rigo Pruneda said the situation is improving, but there have been a few hindrances to recruitment over the past few years.
“Nationally, there’s been some problems with police rhetoric,” Sgt. Pruneda said. “Police are getting kind of a tough name, so people aren’t interested. COVID also hurt us because testing stopped.”
Pruneda added that even when a new officer is hired, the position requires time-consuming background checks and training.
“It’s not your traditional job where you give a resume, do an oral interview. There’s a lot more to it,” he said. “So, it could take a month before you’re start to finish and hired. In some cases, even more.”
In Richland, an aging workforce has put a strain on the department.
“We just had a lot of retirements over the last five to seven years,” explained Sgt. Shawn Swanson of the Richland Police Department, “so just playing catch-up for that. But again, just keeping up with the growth of the city and trying to meet the staffing levels, it’s a constant battle.”
The department is looking to fill eight positions for a full staff of 68.
“That number still needs to be increased,” Sgt. Swanson said. “So, we’re actively asking the city right now to get more officers on top of that.”
All of the local departments are seeking the right candidates to join their workforce, which puts them in competition with one another.
“We all want those highly qualified, confident, people of character, people who want to serve their community, and honestly, we’re competing for the same folks,” said Sgt. Chris Littrell, community services sergeant with Kennewick Police Department.
The Kennewick Police Department is the largest of the three, with 108 officers making up a full complement. With 12 open positions, Littrell said they are facing some of their lowest staffing levels in recent memory.
The COVID-19 pandemic is partly to blame.
“We saw a huge impact right at the very beginning when all of our society went into a shut down and the testing companies weren’t set up to do virtual testing. So, pretty much, hiring completely came to a standstill.”
The police departments say low staffing levels require them to prioritize more urgent calls.
The recruits who have recently found their way into policing have positive things to say about both the role and the community.
Officer Fernando Ramos joined the Kennewick Police Department a year and a half ago.
“I have been overwhelmed with nothing but kindness, support,” he said. “People just stopping me on the side of the road will literally just try to wave me down and say, ‘hey, I just wanted to say thank-you.’”
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