The Bellingham Police Department is exploring new, creative ways to increase the number and diversity of candidates for vacant police officer positions, including offering hiring bonuses, temporarily relaxing education requirements, and increasing community outreach.
Law enforcement agencies locally and across the country are facing a high number of retirements, challenges maintaining adequate staffing levels, and difficulties attracting new people into law enforcement careers.
Faced with many vacancies within the police department, Bellingham Police Chief Rebecca Mertzig said they are using a number of new recruitment strategies to help attract the next generation of police officers.
Hiring bonuses for bilingual officers, additional outreach
Some of the department’s other new recruitment strategies are funded by a $60,000 grant from the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC), established by House Bill 1001 to support local law enforcement agencies attract a broader diversity of candidates in their recruiting efforts. The Bellingham Police Department was one of two agencies in Washington State to receive grant funding in this year’s cycle.
Mertzig said that, in light of the challenges law enforcement agencies are facing in recruiting and retaining officers, the grant funds are intended to inspire a broader diversity of candidates, especially from underrepresented groups and communities, as well as to encourage more people to choose careers in law enforcement.
Bellingham Police will use some of the grant award to provide $2,000 hiring bonuses for candidates who demonstrate proficiency in a qualified second language. The qualifying languages are Spanish, Punjabi, Mandarin, Russian and American Sign Language (ASL) or Signing Exact English (SEE.) Additional uses for the grant include supporting officers to attend recruiting and community events and developing recruiting outreach efforts.
“The Legislature specifically challenged agencies to use innovative outreach efforts to increase diversity, reflective of local communities,” Mertzig said. “We are expanding options for recruiting and broadening the diversity of candidates for our vacant police officer positions,” Mertzig said. “I am excited to see the results of all these recruiting efforts and welcome the next generation of great officers to our department.”
Temporary reduction in education requirements
Another strategy is a one-year pilot project to relax the requirement that police officer candidates have at least a two-year degree.
“We expect that temporarily removing this education requirement will help us attract additional candidates who will make excellent police officers,” she said. “This does not mean we are relaxing our high standards for police officers, but simply temporarily lowering the barrier to entering the candidate pool.”
Chief Mertzig said temporarily lowering the education requirement may attract highly capable candidates who have no college experience as well as those who have some college, military service background, or other significant life experience, but no degree.
Noting that while she values a college education, Mertzig believes relevant critical thinking skills, emotional intelligence, and meaningful exposure to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion do not only come from a college classroom.
“The Bellingham Police Department has a long history and reputation of being highly selective and extremely well-trained, and that will continue,” she said.