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Spokane Sheriff asks county to renew bonus program amid low recruitment

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(The Center Square) – Spokane County is at a crossroads as it considers continuing to extend sign-on bonuses for the Sheriff’s Office and Detention Services amid industry-wide recruiting woes.

The program that allows the Sheriff’s Office to administer the bonuses expires on June 30, and without it, the county will lack a tool used nationwide to attract qualified candidates.

Former Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich started the sign-on bonus program in 2021, following the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in response to the death of George Floyd. The contentious period shifted perceptions around law enforcement nationwide, contributing to a lack of recruitment.

Undersheriff Kevin Richey asked the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday to extend the program for another year, maintaining the bonus amounts approved in 2022 until June 30, 2025.

“Everyone is offering bonuses now,” Richey said. “If we don’t, I think it hurts us more than anything.”

However, because the practice is so widely adopted, he said it makes it hard to quantify.

Last year, Richey told The Spokesman-Review that the Sheriff’s Office had only retained about 20% of its new hires since starting the program; then, during Tuesday’s meeting, Richey said that he’s unsure if the bonuses actually attract candidates or not.

Regardless, the sheriff’s office wants to continue the program. Richey said it hopes to hire at least 30 to 60 people alone over the next year.

If approved, the agency would continue to extend a $10,000 sign-on bonus for new entry-level deputies and up to $25,000 for Lateral and Intermediate Lateral Deputy positions. The program would provide 50% upon the first regularly scheduled payday, with the remainder paid out after being retained for a year and completing any applicable probationary period.

Despite being unsure whether the bonuses are effective, Richey said Spokane County’s current program is more reasonable than other municipalities. The City of Renton is increasing its sign-on bonus to $40,000; meanwhile, California’s Alameda Police Department is offering $75,000, according to KTVU FOX 2.

Don Hooper, Spokane County’s chief of Detention Services, also asked the BoCC to extend the program, which provides sign-on bonuses to correctional officers, cooks and other employees as well.

Ivana Vukicevic, an executive assistant within Detention Services, said the department is at the bottom of the ladder in attracting new hires. Last month, it had seven new applicants; only two remain because the rest took higher bonuses with other law enforcement agencies.

“I don’t know if it’s the hiring bonus, if it’s the pay, if it’s the job,” Vukicevic said, “but we’re on the bottom of the list when they’re choosing who they’re going to work.”

Hooper recognizes that candidates will likely choose a job in law enforcement over corrections, but maintaining the bonuses provides a stepping stone to get there while also incentivizing working within Detention Services.

An example of this incentive playing out includes hiring younger candidates hoping to ascend to a patrol-level position within a few years. Hooper said Detention Services recently hired its first 18-year-old employee and would continue considering other applicants in the age range.

If approved, the program would provide up to a $10,000 sign-on bonus for entry-level correctional officers, up to $15,000 for lateral-level positions and no more than $3,500 for cooks and other positions.

“I don’t think [potential hires] dream about it,” Hooper said, “but once they get here, I think they realize there’s a lot of benefits for them.”

The BoCC is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks before the program expires on June 30; otherwise, the maximum sign-on bonus will decrease to $7,500 after that date.

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