Washington County Sheriff's Office faces uniform crunch
The Washington County Sheriff's Office has a problem.
As many as 50 deputies could retire, leaving the department short-staffed. And the woman in charge of recruiting new deputies, Sgt. Caprice Massey, said the Sheriff's Office doesn't have enough applicants to fill the positions.
"If I could get a larger audience to tell everyone not only how amazing this career is, but Washington County specifically, I'd scream it from the rooftops," Massey said.
The issue isn't unique to Washington County — it's impacting agencies all across the country.
While vacancies vary from county to county, all face challenges to fill these jobs due to factors like natural turnover, retirements and a decrease in application submittal.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office gave KOIN 6 News, a Pamplin Media Group news partner, an unprecedented look at the process — to entice newcomers and keep them.
Training, hiring process are intensive for recruits
In a large, unassuming building near downtown Hillsboro is an obstacle course that's designed to feel a lot like a foot chase.
Recruits have to get through it six times in less than five minutes, 30 seconds. They also have to pull a 160-pound dummy 25 feet within that time.
The physical abilities test is one of the first and most grueling parts of the hiring process. It also varies from county to county. For example, across the Columbia River in Washington, Clark County's test includes a 300-meter run, maximum push-ups (no time limit), maximum sit-ups (one minute) and a 1.5 mile run/walk.
Recruit Michael Iwicki is nearly 40 years old and recently retired from the Navy. He finished the test with a minute to spare.
"It doesn't seem that bad, but it gets pretty challenging after one or two laps," Iwicki said. "It's mind over matter. A lot of people see it and they get intimidated, but you can do it — you just have to push."
Deputy Jessica Hennessey said, "We run, fight, jump, stairs, everything with all our gear on, so we have to have that physical standard."
After a recruit passes their physical abilities test, they're one step closer to Washington County's Comprehensive Benefits and Special Teams Training.
The next steps in the hiring process include answering four questions in front of a video camera, completing a 500-question test and the Sheriff's Office conducting a thorough background investigation.
The entire recruitment process can take six months — including some training at the state academy — and even more for a patrol deputy applicant.
"We have an in-house academy that recruits attend first," Massey said. "From there, patrol recruits go to the academy in Salem for 17 weeks, and jail recruits go to the academy for six weeks. Our eight-week academy here prepares them to excel in the state academy. The recruit's 18-month probation begins the day they get hired, and all training from date of hire is paid."
Another crucial step in the hiring process at the Washington County Sheriff's Office is teaching recruits when to use lethal force.
It can happen in seconds, and sometimes a sheriff's deputy has just as long to react.
As part of the recruitment process, the Sheriff's Office sets up "confrontation simulations" that mimic real-life scenarios — for example, an assault at a school or a suicidal woman at her house.
These are simulations that help recruits build skills and then show their instructors what they've learned in a safe environment.
"If you really go home at night and think about it, what you did wrong, what you need to improve on, and you go through it again and training kicks in," recruit Timothy Waldron said. "I definitely think it's a huge advantage of doing these."
There are four times when Washington County Sheriff's Office instructors say it's legal to use lethal force: to protect someone else, to protect yourself, to make an arrest or to prevent an escape.
When deputies are put in a position when lethal force becomes necessary, they have to react fast — even more so than the average person would think, noted Sgt. Kelly Degman.
Recruits are also required to learn fast driving techniques, which includes matching speed, making contact and steering.
'We do not have enough applicants'
Hennessey is part of the Washington County Recruitment Team, which didn't even exist a couple years ago.
Almost a year ago, Massey was put in charge of the new recruitment team. As of February, though, the team had only placed 36 people in the hiring process. Massey said that number should be twice that amount.
The agency has 265 patrol deputies and 150 jail deputies as part of a hiring boom throughout the country in the 1980s. Fifty of those deputies are eligible to retire, but losing them — especially from one division — would be crippling.
"We do not have enough applicants applying from the beginning, and we have to increase that number," Massey said.
When asked why the push for the recruitment team, Massey said, "We just weren't getting as many applicants as we used to get."
Massey is the only deputy whose only job is to find new deputies.
"Now that the economy is in such great shape, there's not as much innate interest in law enforcement," Massey said. "Because of that, every other county is dealing with the same issues we are. And every city is dealing with those issues, so we are competing against them as well."
Massey is worried there's not a deep-seated interest in law enforcement like there was a generation ago. She also said the booming technology industry is making it hard to attract applicants.
However, she emphasized, applicants for law enforcement jobs in the Sheriff's Office don't need a college degree to apply.
Compared to Multnomah, Clackamas, Clark and Marion counties, Washington's annual salary range is the highest.
While its salary may be an incentive, Massey believes the Sheriff's Office offers much more than just good pay in Washington County.
"It's a factor, but I think the culture is far more important to people, and what I have discovered in my few years as a supervisor is that people leave bosses and cultures before they leave for the pay," Massey said. "We are more focused on making sure every single person who works here knows how valuable they are and that their contribution is essential to our mission."
Washington County also strictly follows three core values.
"The Washington County core values are: Do the right thing, treat everyone the way you want to be treated and always do your best," Massey said.
She said the Sheriff's Office core values are "simple and basic fundamental values" that most people were brought up with. Those values don't just apply to coworkers, Massey stressed, but with every person deputies come into contact with, including community members and jail inmates.
According to Massey, empathy is extremely important to have when to comes to deputy work.
"It is one of the most critical skill sets we need to be looking for when we're hiring," she said.
Jail has beds, but staffing is a concern
The Washington County Jail houses 572 beds — and about 500 of them are full. However, only 150 deputies work at the jail.
A deputy's day — like an inmate's — can start in the intake area. Up to 50 inmates are booked here every day.
Deputy Mandi Werder said, "They are always in handcuffs and are sat down. Once we get the necessary paperwork, we pat them down, search for any contraband, weapons, injuries."
According to Werder, deputies ask suspects being booked into jail a lot of questions — especially if they have any injuries. After the medical staff checks out an injured inmate, the inmate will be taken to the hospital with their arresting officer until they're cleared.
If an inmate isn't injured, he gets dressed and then is housed in one of the units. Many of the units are close to full — including the medical observation unit, which is a pod that houses inmates with mental illness.
"I try to treat everybody how I want to be treated, and it works — unless they give me a reason not to treat them that way," Werder said.
Werder is an eight-year jail veteran. She rotates between the different pods, including the one where women inmates are housed and maximum security.
"We do rounds," Werder said. "They are required every 30 minutes."
However, there is only one deputy in each pod to watch over 60 inmates, most of whom spend a lot of their time outside their cells.
Allowing inmates time outside of their cells is a policy that deputies say reward good behavior and commands respect. The policy — coupled with the county's core values — leads to fewer problems, according to Massey.
The Washington County Jail takes up more than five acres of downtown real estate in Hillsboro. It includes one of Oregon's first housing units for inmates with special needs, including medical (even cancer), disabilities, hard of hearing, mobility and mental health.
"We do have a really good mental illness staff," Werder said. "They see them once or twice a day and talk to them about resources."
Frank, an inmate in the medical observation unit, said he views the staff positively.
"They're more accommodating," he said. "They're friendlier — respectful, and I treat them with respect as well."
Losing more deputies would be devastating, as they play a critical role in the jail, but Massey is determined to not let that happen.
"I love my job, I can't imagine doing anything other than what I do and the great thing about recruitment — is for the first time in my career — almost everyone I come into contact with likes me," Massey said, laughing. "They want to talk to me. It's so awesome.
State, local law enforcement agencies create website
But while it offers an opportunity to serve locally in a variety of roles, the Washington County Sheriff's Office is far from the only law enforcement agency in Oregon seeking job applicants.
According to the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, agencies across the state — not just police departments and sheriff's offices, but emergency dispatch centers and correctional facilities as well — are bracing to lose upwards of 1,000 current employees to retirement over the next three years. More than 500 of those employees are expected to retire within the next year, the department announced.
"Across the state, law enforcement agencies are looking to hire men and women from diverse backgrounds who are problem-solvers interested in engaging with community members to help make communities safe," said Eriks Gabliks, director of the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, in a statement Monday, April 2.
The department announced the creation of a centralized website, in partnership with the Oregon State Police, Oregon State Sheriff's Association and Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police, to advertise job openings.
Among those listed as of Wednesday, April 4: a dispatcher for Washington County 911, a lateral police officer in Forest Grove, a reserve police officer in Hillsboro, an entry-level police officer in Tigard and a corrections deputy in Columbia County.
Those four organizations will also host the 2018 Oregon Criminal Justice Career Fair at the Oregon Public Safety Academy, located at 4190 Aumsville Highway in Salem, on Friday, April 20, and Saturday, April 21. The fair will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. both days.
Editor's note: The original version of this story appeared on the website of KOIN 6 News.
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