Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent Police

Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent Police

Kent Police still short about 18 officers despite pay hikes

Chief Padilla emphasizes recruitment of new officers to replace those who left the department

Despite new hires for what might be the best pay and benefits package in the state, the Kent Police Department remains down about 18 officers due to nearly two dozen who left the force.

The department has hired 23 officers since 2021 after the City Council last fall approved pay increases and hiring incentives, Police Chief Rafael said during his May 17 Public Safety Report to the council. But Kent’s also lost 23 officers since 2021 due to resignations or retirements.

”If not for the mass exodus, we would be fully staffed today,” said Padilla, who added it typically takes about six years for Kent to lose two dozen officers to resignations or retirements.

Padilla thanked Mayor Dana Ralph and the council for their support last year to raise pay and add hiring incentives in an effort to attract more officers. The department is allotted 166 officers under the current budget and has filled 148 of those positions.

“Thank you council and mayor, to put your money where your mouth is,” Padilla said. “I’m pretty sure we are the best in the state, with starting pay at $83,000 and experienced officers at $108,000.”

The department also offers a police SUV to take home, 400 hours of annual leave to start, body-worn cameras, college education incentive pay, college education reimbursement and bilingual pay.

Officers who come to Kent from another police department in the state receive a $25,000 bonus. Officers from law enforcement agencies in other states get a $10,000 bonus.

“You did your job,” Padilla said to the council. “We have been offering hiring incentives since the fall.”

Padilla said a few other law enforcement agencies just recently began offering incentives, including the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and the Tacoma Police Department.

“Our incentives and pay are the standards,” said City Councilmember Zandria Michaud. “Other departments don’t have the incentive list we offer.”

Although 148 officers are on staff, only about 125 are available for duty, Padilla said.

Nine officers are out due to on-the-job injuries, several for long-term issues.

“We are anticipating several medical separations,” Padilla said. “Most of those are stress related.”

Seven officers are in training at the police academy in Burien, with six of them expected to graduate in June. Six officers are in Kent’s Community Immersion Law Enforcement Program, where they are required to work 40 hours a week for eight weeks with a community stakeholder or nonprofit human service provider before joining patrol duties. Two officers are in field training.

That adds up to about two dozen officers unavailable for patrol duties.

Recruiting emphasis

Padilla shifted two officers from patrol to be full-time recruiters. He plans to add another recruiting officer once the overall staffing numbers improve.

“We are meeting with people to apply for the department,” Padilla said. “We want to get to them first and keep them engaged. Some talk to our recruiters daily.”

Recruiters have gone to the campuses of Washington State University in Pullman, Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma and Tacoma Community College in an effort to find new officers among soon-to-be graduates.

“We are targeting athletes in particular,” Padilla said. “We think they would be very successful.”

Kent Police recruiters also had a booth at the Puyallup Spring Fair to attract new hires and has stepped up a fresh marketing and recruiting campaign on social media.

“You’re going to see our team everywhere they can be,” said Padilla, who reminded the council that a city with Kent’s population of more than 130,000 should have a staff of 195 officers. “We are hiring. We are very serious about getting people in the door.”

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