Scappoose requests reimbursement for expenses paid to train officer that left for job in St. Helens

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - The city of Scappoose requested more than $30,000 and ultimately received $25,000 from the city of St. Helens to cover the cost of training a police officer who left within two years of working for the department. Under a 2017 law change, police departments can make such reimbursement requests to recoup some of the costs paid to train new police officers when they leave to work at another Oregon agency within three years. Late last year, the city of Scappoose requested more than $30,000, and ultimately received $25,000 from the city of St. Helens, to cover the cost of training a police officer who left within two years of working for the department.

The reimbursement was paid under a recently revised state law that allows a city to issue an invoice to recoup costs for training expenses if a law enforcement officer departs for another agency within three years of starting employment.

The statute was adopted in the 2017 legislative session.

Pursuing the reimbursement is optional. Additionally, a hiring agency is prohibited under the law to take into account the reimbursement possibility when making hiring decisions.

Scappoose Police Chief Norm Miller explained that Kolten Edwards recently left Scappoose just shy of two years with the department to take a job with the St. Helens Police Department. Scappoose then opted to pursue reimbursement under the state statute to help recover training costs, which could be used to help train a new hire in the future.

On average, the city of Scappoose pays $40,000 to $45,000 for a year of a new officer's employment. That expense includes salary, training costs and equipment for the new officer, as well as a 5 percent bonus paid by the Scappoose Police Department to the officer who supervises a new employee during his or her first 16 weeks of field training, Miller explained.

"You have a lot invested. Time, money, equipment," Miller said.

Scappoose initially requested $31,577.87 from St. Helens. Ultimately, the two agencies settled on $25,000, which Miller said he felt was a fair payment for two small cities.

"It's what I felt was reasonable at the time when I met with St. Helens. It's negotiable to the fact that we're all small cities and that anytime a high dollar amount is going to affect your budget, I get that," Miller said. "And I don't think the city was looking to hurt St. Helens in any way. We were just looking to compensate some of our money we spent towards a new officer, and I felt $25,000 was reasonable, and they thought so too."

Edwards was hired by the Scappoose Police Department in March 2017 and resigned last October, after he had taken a job with the St. Helens Police Department. In 2015, Edwards worked as a volunteer Columbia County Sheriff's Office reserve deputy before being hired on as a full-time deputy in 2016, state police records show.

Miller added that recruiting and retaining police officers is increasingly difficult. Bigger agencies, like Hillsboro and Portland, can offer cash signing bonuses and more specialized police work for officers, which can make it difficult to retain staff in smaller communities. Even St. Helens, which has developed a bonus plan that allows officers to earn money for a house payment within the city, is more attractive, Miller explained.

St. Helens City Administrator John Walsh said the city of Scappoose had every right to request the reimbursement, and if SHPD had hired a new officer, they would have had to pay for training anyway.

While Miller noted that Scappoose has not pursued reimbursement like this before, police departments in Vernonia and Warrenton have done so.

The St. Helens Police Department has a policy that allows a lieutenant within SHPD to determine when the agency may be entitled for reimbursement expenses. Scappoose does not have a similar policy, Miller explained.

Both Scappoose and St. Helens currently have two open law enforcement positions.

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