The help wanted sign is once again out in front of the Washington Police Station.
Washington police have been operating short-handed for several weeks now and that trend will continue. At the end of the month, Menefee said his department will be down by five officers. The department has opened up hiring in its attempt to fill two vacancies.
Down five officers is basically being down a quarter of his staff, Menefee said. The department operates in squads with one command staff member, three patrol officers and one extra.
Washington Police Chief Ed Menefee said since summer of 2016, 11 officers have left the department. Since the fall of 2017, five have left or given their notice to leave.
So far police have replaced three of the officers, but the new hires are still in training. New hires fresh out of the academy need 10 to 12 weeks to get field certified and that requires riding with a partner. Officers with previous experience need at least five weeks, he said.
“We cannot afford to lose another officer,” he said.
Being short-handed has already impacted the staff. Menefee said the department is in the midst of a compensation and vacation time freeze, which has impacted morale.
If one more officer leaves, the chief said vacation time already scheduled could be canceled and some of his senior staff, like detectives, and maybe even himself might have to do more road patrol.
Menefee said officers are trying to make everything work so residents don’t notice the department is short staffed.
“We’re working hard to maintain the expected level of enforcement and patrol,” he said.
The turnover of officers has had a monetary impact on the department. To help cover the shortage now, Menefee said some officers are working and getting paid for overtime. He said he works hard to budget for overtime throughout the year, but there’s a concern the money won’t be there at the end of the year if needed.
In addition to checking the overtime budget, Menefee said the department’s uniform budget has been blown. Each new officer gets a new uniform and some equipment. The turnover over the last several years has been costly.
Additionally, each new officer gets a bulletproof vest. Each vest is fitted to each officer, meaning when 11 officers leave in 18 months, that’s 11 different vests purchased that can’t be reused.
Menefee also said the department is spending a lot on training. He said the goal is to have each officer be as well trained as possible. He said new hires get crisis intervention training, Narcan training, firearms training and other sessions designed to improve their skills.
The training helps make better officers, and helps make the officers more attractive to other departments. Menefee said St. Louis County and other departments that pay better know they can come to Washington and pluck out a quality officer.
That department doesn’t have to pay for training the officer already has. When Washington makes a hire fresh from the academy, it has to start the training all over again.
Menefee said the department is in the process of filling the two spots. He said one candidate is currently in the police academy and won’t graduate until April.
If the department goes that route, it would’nt be until late 2018 when the department would have all its officers trained and on staff.
Menefee said there’s an urgency to fill the open spots, but he wants to hire the right officer. He said he doesn’t want to settle for a lesser-qualified officer but instead wants someone who fits in with his vision for the department.
Several years ago the department took an entire year to make a hire in order to find the “right” officer.
Applicants can apply for the openings via the city’s website at ci.washington.mo.us.