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Three officers short of full staff, WLPD is no longer looking for a new captain

PMG FILE PHOTO - West Linn Police Department has made several new hires in recent monthsOver the past two months the West Linn Police Department has hired several new officers, as well as a community service officer, as Police Chief Peter Mahuna slowly builds the station back up to full staff.

Two new officers, Dylan Taylor and Zach Nelson, began patrol duties in August and September after graduating from the academy at the Oregon Department of Standards and Training. Mahuna said a third new hire is set to graduate from the academy next month.

WLPD also rehired Gary deMoss in September as a motorcycle officer. According to DPSST employment records, deMoss worked for WLPD from 1998 to 2003, and with the Lake Oswego Police Department from 2003 until this year.

Mahuna plans to finalize the hiring of another officer next month, but that recruit will still have to go through the four-month academy, which may not have an opening until next spring.

Labor shortages that have affected nearly every industry over the past two years have also impacted law enforcement.

While open officer positions at WLPD used to attract between 30 and 50 applicants, Mahuna said they now garner less than half of that.

"Now it's a much smaller number," Mahuna said. "We used to open it up and close it because we'd get a large group of applicants we'd have to weed through, but for the last year or so we've left it open as a continuous hiring process."

Taylor and Nelson were hired for positions that were open for about a year, according to Mahuna.

Part of the reason it's so difficult to hire new officers at the moment is that other agencies are in the same boat, so new recruits have their pick of the department to join. Mahuna said large bonuses offered by Portland Police Bureau have made it tough for smaller agencies in the region to attract new officers. Portland has offered signing bonuses of up to $25,000 for lateral officers (those moving from another department) and $5,000 for new officers — amounts WLPD can't compete with.

New officers joining agencies at the same time also results in backup at the academy, which can only take so many recruits at a time. Enrollment at the academy is also still impacted from when it shut down due to the pandemic.

"When it reopened, there was a flood of people trying to get in," Mahuna said.

New officers at large agencies like Portland are taking up a lot of the academy spots, he added.

This month's hiring of a new community service officer marks the first time WLPD has ever had two officers working code enforcement. Mahuna clarified that community service officers are non-sworn officers and are unarmed, only responding to calls related to the issues like abandoned vehicles and noxious vegetation. Mahuna said WLPD receives so many calls related to code enforcement that it was too much for one officer to handle.

The hiring process for each new officer included an interview, in which a community member participated, according to Mahuna.

Mahuna said WLPD has included community participation for each hire made since the release of the OIR report. OIR Group, which the city hired in 2020 to conduct a review of WLPD's false arrest of Michael Fesser, recommended a number of ways the city could improve accountability at WLPD, including more citizen involvement.

WLPD is now just three officers short of full staff. The department is no longer seeking a new captain to serve alongside Captain Oddis Rollins.

Before the former Chief Terry Kruger was fired and Mahuna assumed the role of interim chief, Mahuna and Rollins were both captains. Earlier this year, Kirk Tonkin, a former West Linn sergeant who complained of corruption in WLPD's leadership in 2014, applied for the captain's role.

Mahuna felt the department no longer needed a second captain.

"I downgraded that captain's position to a detective sergeant position," Mahuna said. "I hope that when we get up to full staff, we can get another executive position, but now I need some help at a lower level."

Mahuna said he felt the sergeant would better fit the current needs of the department. WLPD recently promoted officer Adam Simms to sergeant.

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