Kent Police officers will receive a 16% pay increase starting Oct. 1 in an effort to retain more officers and recruit new personnel.
Officers also will be assigned to longer shifts to help fully cover patrol shifts with a shrinking staff and to provide better service.
The Kent City Council unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Tuesday, Sept. 21 with the Kent Police Officers Association for the new agreement. Typically, pay hikes wouldn’t start until next year since the current contract with the union runs through Dec. 31.
But city staff and union representatives reached an early agreement to start the higher wages sooner after Police Chief Rafael Padilla, due to staff shortages, implemented an emergency change in the contract to officer shifts that will increase the number of hours worked per shift but reduce the number of shifts.
“It is critical that the Kent Police Department stay competitive and maintain its standing as an attractive agency for employment,” Padilla wrote in documents to support the change. “Historically, Kent has attempted to stay in the top third of law enforcement agencies in terms of wages as compared to comparable Washington jurisdictions. Kent has fallen below this standard.”
In fact, Kent dropped to the bottom in pay in 2021 compared to police agencies in Everett, Kirkland, Bellevue, Renton, Vancouver, Auburn and Federal Way, according to numbers provided by the city of Kent Human Resources Department.
With the pay hike, however, Kent will move to the top of the list, at least temporarily. Pay at other police departments is expected to go up in 2022, said Teri Smith, city of Kent Human Resources director.
Kent officers with at least five years of experience (which is most of the force) will be paid a maximum base salary of $106,776 per year with the increase. Those officers currently receive $91,632 per year.
The pay increases include a 6.3% cost of living hike, a 5% market rate adjustment (based on comparable cities) and a 4.7% jump for additional hours that will replace overtime pay under a new shift policy.
Officers would have started to receive the cost of living and market rate adjustments in January. The higher pay for additional hours is a new feature of the contract. Due to the early agreement, officers will not get further increases in 2022. The next pay hikes are expected to come in 2023.
“I strongly support this decision,” Council President Toni Troutner said in a Sept. 22 email. “My top priority is the safety of our city and by voting to approve the MOU and the upcoming contract, my fellow council members and I are putting action to our words. The circumstances that have led to the shortage of police officers were beyond our control, but the decision to stabilize our police staffing and demonstrate my strong support for our officers is a decision that is in line with what our community expects and what I stand for as the council president.”
The council has approved a budget for 160 officers, but with early retirements, officers leaving for law enforcement agencies in other states and some leaving police careers, Kent is down to 144 filled positions, Padilla said.
“We still have several more retirements and resignations that are scheduled by the end of this year,” Padilla said in an email.
Officers have been working mandated overtime because of the staff shortage. Padilla said it’s been a struggle to cover all of the shifts under the current schedule of six shifts.
Under the new policy, officers will work 12-hour shifts one week with three days off, then three 12-hour shifts in the following week with four days off. Each officer will have 84 hours for each work period rather than 80, an exception in federal law for police and fire employees that results in up to 86 hours in two weeks with no overtime payment required.
Officers will work 104 hours more per year but at a higher rate of pay. They will get 26 more days off per year because of the longer shifts over fewer days.
“It maximizes the number of officers on duty at the same time,” Padilla said.
The department will be fully staffed with two shifts each day of 12 hours, one day shift and one night shift. All officers will leave their shift when the next group comes in.
“This allows Chief Padilla to adequately staff patrol shifts, ensuring we have the needed officers to respond to 911 calls for service,” Troutner said in an email. “We will see an eventual cost savings to the city with a significant decrease in mandatory overtime for officers. It also means we have provided the resources that will allow us to retain our current officers, while positioning us well to be highly competitive in recruiting the best and brightest future officers.”
The pay hikes for cost of living, market rate and the shift change will cost the city about $700,000 in 2021 and about $2.8 million in 2022 from the city general fund and criminal justice fund, Padilla said.
Comparable pay chart (2021)
(Patrol officer base maximum pay per year)
• Everett – $102,588
• Kirkland – $100,440
• Bellevue – $100,236
• Renton – $97,932
• Vancouver – $96,492
• Auburn – $95,232
• Federal Way – $94,212
• Kent – $91,632
Note: With pay increases in October, Kent officers with at least five years on the job will jump to $106,776 per year.
Source: City of Kent Human Resources Department