Local police staffing shortage is unsustainable
Letters from our readers
Last updated 12/15/2023 at 12:32pm
The Grand Coulee Police Department is critically understaffed, yet the city council has declared a hiring freeze for an unspecified length of time. Currently, the department has six full-time officers. A fully staffed local police force would be eight officers. Interestingly, mandatory overtime has become the norm as the city refuses to search for qualified candidates. Presumably, the reason behind the hiring freeze is an unbalanced budget. However, typical monthly overtime for our officers averages 30-40 hours per month, and we all know overtime equals time and a half.
Nationwide, police officers are leaving the profession in droves, and Washington state is no exception. While Republicans and Democrats may bicker over the underlying cause, it is undisputed that Washington has the lowest numbers of police officers per capita nationwide, according to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs’ “Crime in Washington 2022 Annual Report.” Indeed, our state has ranked last for thirteen years in a row, with 1.36 police officers per 1,000 citizens. The national average is 2.31 officers per 1,000 people.
An outside observer may suggest that lifting the hiring freeze is unlikely to matter given the statewide shortage of police officers. With morale amongst first responders reaching all-time lows, filling these vacancies may be difficult in a city whose elected officials continue to devalue public safety and law enforcement.
“Defund the police” was a rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter movement, and conservative cities and states recoiled in horror. At the time, it seemed that the red portions of the state would continue to support a robust police force despite leftist voices in Olympia. The fact that a rural, conservative town in Eastern Washington has chosen to deliberately defund their own police department is curious indeed.
The current staffing shortage at the Grand Coulee Police Department is unsustainable for our officers and puts them at risk of burnout. As concerns over economic instability and political division continue to worsen, public safety is more important than ever. Local governments are, for better or worse, going to see more opportunities to fill the gaps left by ineffective state and federal governments. Is ours up to the task? How much longer will our elected officials dodge legitimate questions concerning the potential consolidation of Coulee Dam Police Department and Grand Coulee Police Department? People who are newer to these communities often ask why police department consolidation has not happened. Although PD consolidation would solve the aforementioned staffing issues, local governments have shown time and again that they are unwilling to commit to solving difficult issues that directly impact our communities.
Our police officers are hardworking individuals who value their community and entered the profession with a desire to serve. They deserve, at minimum, reasonable working hours and the full support of their city government.