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What's the incentive for police officers in western Washington?: Today So Far

  • As neighboring cities recruit new police officers, Seattle continues to discuss how it will attract officers to serve the city.
  • Northwest power companies have new plans that will hit your wallet.

This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for May 2, 2022.

Our western Washington region is experiencing some a law enforcement switch ups as cities compete for new officers and discuss how to recruit them. At the center of this issue is Seattle, where a debate has been brewing over whether to offer hiring incentives. Meanwhile, neighboring cities like Kent and Everett are scooping up new recruits.

Recruits like Krishan Kumar who wanted to work in Kent, because his family lives locally.

“I wanted to work in a city that I have personal ties to, and I wanted to work in a city that was super culturally diverse because that’s what I grew up around,” he told KUOW.

As KUOW's Amy Radil reports, Auburn, Seattle, Kennewick, and Kent have some of the highest law enforcement salaries in the state. But not all have bright and shiny signing bonuses to attract new officers. Sergeant Eric Tung leads Kent's recruiting efforts and notes that officers often consider a range of factors when deciding where to work.

“We find that most people don’t want to become a police officer for the pay," Tung said. "They don’t pursue policing for the paycheck. It’s more about purpose and impact.”

Still, a signing bonus can be a nice cherry on top of a career cake. That's a big part of an ongoing discussion in Seattle these days, which also includes what kind of police officers the city wants to hire. Interim Chief Adrian Diaz has often spoken about the city's shortage of officers and the need to hire more, fast. Current officers are stretched thin and are using a lot of overtime to get the job done. Mayor Bruce Harrell has echoed that sentiment.

"I tell you I need more officers, but a new kind of officer, the right kind of officers with the right kind of sensitivity," Harrell recently said. "That's a new kind of conversation because I know what the defund movement was all about. I listened. I researched. And I know what we say in this city, and other cities, why people will get caught up in that narrative. But I must tell you that I believe that all communities have to be safe first."

The Seattle City Council previously budgeted to hire 125 more officers. More recently, Councilmember Sara Nelson has crafted a resolution as part of that effort. Resolutions, of course, are ways politicians say "Wouldn't it be nice if..." But they don't hold much authority. They do, however, have the ability to set a tone on the dais, which is what I figure Nelson is attempting to do with this resolution. Nelson is also drafting some legislation on this issue. Councilmember Lisa Herbold says she's open to incentives, but nothing that goes as far as fancy signing bonuses. These options will likely come up on the council dais this month.

On the other side of this discussion are community groups like Choose 180 and Community Passageways. They are putting forth an argument that SPD's excess funds, and funds that could go toward incentives, would be better used for prevention and policing alternatives.

There's more to this story, which Amy Radil has here.

It should probably also be noted that King County is in the middle of its own hiring process for a new sheriff. So there will eventually be a new sheriff in town, too.

Regular TSF readers know that this next story is the kind that I love. Sure, many will read its headline and pass it by because it's too nuts-and-bolts. But it's exactly the news that will affect your life. So for the moment, please forget about that sensational tweet or any back-and-forth political bickering, and tune into the fact that across the Northwest, private power companies are putting tens of millions of dollars into an effort that will decrease wildfire risks. Why is this important?

Wildfires have a variety of common causes, but as we've seen around here, one risk is when a powerline comes into contact with nearby trees, setting off a blaze. So these companies are aiming to cut trees near powerlines, and install modern systems that shut off a circuit when a fault is detected during storms. If protecting wildlife and human life isn't enough to interest you, then consider the fact that this will be hitting your wallet.

This multimillion-dollar effort isn't just going to pay for itself. You, the customers, are going to pay for it, most likely in the form of higher rates in the years ahead. Utility companies engaged in this effort include: Avista, Idaho Power, Pacific Power, Portland General Electric, and Puget Sound Energy.

Another factor in this wildfire prevention effort is preemptive shutoffs. This has been done in California and Oregon amid dry, hot seasons. A utility will shut off power in a high-risk area with the aim of preventing potential sparks. Now, this tactic has come to Washington where utilities are developing shutoff plans for future wildfire seasons. That means the lights could go off for some communities when the days get hot. Read the full story here.

AS SEEN ON KUOW

caption: Jade Ramirez-Medrano, 9, a fourth grade student at Cascade Elementary School in Kennewick, shows off a chinook salmon shortly before she releases it into the Columbia River.
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Jade Ramirez-Medrano, 9, a fourth grade student at Cascade Elementary School in Kennewick, shows off a chinook salmon shortly before she releases it into the Columbia River.
Credit: Courtney Flatt / Northwest News Network

Jade Ramirez-Medrano, 9, a fourth-grade student at Cascade Elementary School in Kennewick, shows off a chinook salmon shortly before she releases it into the Columbia River. For four months, fourth grade students at Cascade Elementary School in Kennewick watched as salmon in their classroom developed from a transparent egg – the kids could see the eyes of the salmon even before it hatched to a salmon fry, ready to migrate downstream. They recently helped researchers implant trackers on the fish before releasing them into the wild. (Courtney Flatt / Northwest News Network)

DID YOU KNOW

One day, when I was a community reporter on Bainbridge Island, I received a message (on the very downlow) with the type of information I wasn't supposed to have, and certainly would get into trouble for reporting too soon. The Scotch Broom Festival was happening that day.

As the island's Scotch broom legend was told to me, the state was documenting small town traditions back in the '50s/'60s. A Winslow Way business owner thought it would be funny to submit a fake holiday. He claimed that Bainbridge celebrated the most hated noxious weed that makes allergies go haywire. A problem arose one spring, when a family on a road trip opted to make a stop on the island to witness the festivities. Winslow Way shop owners got a bit irate at their prankster neighbor and told him he had to do something, quick. So he called up some pals and went to grab as much Scotch broom from the ground as he could find. They got in their cars and started waving the weed while honking their horns down Winslow Way. They even grabbed a random person from the side of the street and paraded them as Scotch broom royalty. The only other attraction they could muster up was a game of Tiddlywinks. The whole thing lasted 10-ish minutes. But an annual tradition was born.

Over the years, various locals have kept up the Scotch broom tradition each spring. Sometimes it happens in May, sometimes it happens in June. The thing is, nobody knows when it will happen. Which is why I wasn't supposed to know about it that day, but somebody ratted. Islanders just know that at some point, a group of weirdos will briefly kidnap a bystander, drape them in Scotch broom, and parade down Winslow Way, and maybe play a game of Tiddlywinks — hopefully all within about 10 minutes.

ALSO ON OUR MINDS

caption: Dariya Medynska gathers with other members of the Voloshky Ukrainian dance ensemble before the International Spring Festival at North Penn High School in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.
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Dariya Medynska gathers with other members of the Voloshky Ukrainian dance ensemble before the International Spring Festival at North Penn High School in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.
Credit: Rachel Wisniewski for NPR

A Ukrainian dance troupe in the U.S. fights disinformation, one high kick at a time

After a pandemic hiatus, the Voloshky Ukrainian Dance Ensemble is a little bit rusty. The Ensemble, which turns 50 this year, sees its role in combating Russian aggression as diplomacy through dance, teaching U.S. audiences about Ukrainian history and culture.

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