Issaquah Police sees success in hiring efforts as other agencies struggle

Staff shortages, budget crunches, low morale—it’s a lament heard from law enforcement agencies across the region, except for one.

Issaquah Police Department is bucking the trend with three women leading the way.

When Paula Schwan became interim chief of the Issaquah Police Department in Nov. 2021, it was her mission to ramp up staffing from its "critically low" levels. Schwan said she decided from day one not to cut corners when it came to hiring the best for the badge.

"We’re doing things that aren’t how they’ve always been done. And, I think that’s the biggest thing," said Schwan. "We’re trying to think outside the box within the parameters and guidelines that we really still need to, to be safe."

To achieve new recruiting and hiring goals, Schwan recruited retired King County Sheriff’s Office sergeant Diana Neff. 

"We met thanks to the criminals, because a business locally was broken into, and they actually hired her to do some investigatory work. Then she came to work with our detectives and I met her there through that process," said Schwan.

"I think law enforcement in general gets stuck in that, ‘Well, we’ve always done it this way, so this is the way we should always do it.’ We haven’t grown or changed in that area of hiring," said Neff.

It was recommended that Schwan contact Katie Larson to join their recruiting and hiring efforts. Larson was a retired police chief of the Woodinville Police Department. Both Larson and Neff joined Issaquah Police Department as temporary commanders of the Operations Division and Professional Services Division. 

"We need to be forward-thinking, and we need to be creative and willing to accept that, sometimes, changes have to be made and are necessary," said Larson.

All three women have a combined 96 years of experience in law enforcement and ideas. Together, they’ve hired 16 people in four months, including entry-level and lateral-level officers, filling positions in the onsite corrections facility and bringing the communications center back to full staff. The team is still hiring patrol officers and other positions within the department.

Just like other agencies, Schwan said they are also offering signing bonuses and using media platforms to help recruit.

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"We have not skipped any steps. That’s a big thing that needs to be known. Everybody goes through the exact same process: release of information, still have to do a polygraph, chief’s interview, psychological, medical, you have to do every single part of the steps," Schwan.

Schwan said she doesn’t want to reveal too much about their recruiting and hiring process, since most agencies across the region are competing for the best candidates. Neff said the interim chief has been a big part of getting people in to sign on.

"I think the difference was the way Chief Schwan was conducting her interviews with the candidates," said Neff. "Her ability to communicate with these people to go, ‘This is where you want to be and if you want to be here, we’ll work hard to get you here.’ So, we don’t waste any time. We do not want to lose anybody to any other agency," said Neff.

Retention and offering incentives to current staff has also been key in the growth of the department.

"There’s this whole other piece of law enforcement that I don’t think we’ve paid enough attention to, and that’s retention and mentoring," said Larson. "Getting everybody the best training, making sure that we’re consistent in our policies and procedures."

The trio isn’t reinventing the wheel to bring more people into the force in Issaquah. Though the details of the process are kept a secret for now, Schwan said what they are doing will help lower the amount of overtime of current staff.

"Typically you’re supposed to get four days off in a row. And most of them are either getting three, sometimes only two. So, now this will give a reprieve to where they won’t have to do that anymore. They see light at the end of the tunnel," said Schwan.

"These officers and this staff need to be commended, because they stayed here during some really lean times, because they had a vision. They had a vision of what they wanted this police department to be," said Larson.   

More information about opportunities within the Issaquah Police Department are available on its website.

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