After a lengthy struggle to hire, the Spokane Police Department is almost back to full staffing

After a yearslong struggle to recruit and retain officers, the Spokane Police Department has 350 sworn officers — just two shy of its budgeted number.

In its monthly report to the City Council, the department wrote that despite a challenging three years for police recruitment and retention nationwide, the department is now "as close to fully staffing our 352 budgeted positions as we have been in years."

"The success is not an accident," the report said. "We have made recruiting and training a priority, dedicating a sergeant to both hiring and training, while incorporating a full-time recruiting employee."

The new staffing numbers mark a dramatic shift from this summer, when interim Police Chief Justin Lundgren, an assistant chief at the time, reported that 70 positions were either vacant or unable to be assigned because of training, injuries or other reasons. Lundgren added that the department had lost 91 officers since 2020.

"This gives us some hope. It gives us a path forward to start to recruit."

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"We are really hurting," Dave Duncan, the Spokane Police Guild president, said at the time. "We are in the middle of a staffing crisis that I think is much worse than people know."

In late June, the City Council put aside concerns about the city's limited finances and approved a four-year contract with the department that included significant pay increases and enhanced benefits for officers. Duncan thanked council members for approving the contract and said it would help the department's recruitment efforts.

"This gives us some hope," Duncan said. "It gives us a path forward to start to recruit."

The 2024 budget adopted by the City Council last November sets aside $85 million from the city's general fund for police — more than any other department.

Despite being on the cusp of full staffing, the department says Spokane police are still spread too thin.

In its monthly update, the department said that despite calls for service increasing by about 14% over the past two years, it is still 200 officers short of the national average. (According to the FBI, the national average is about 2.3 officers per 1,000 residents; Spokane has 1.5.)

Of the department's 350 officers, nine are currently on paid administrative leave after shooting and killing a man in Spokane's Cliff/Cannon Neighborhood last week.

Officers were called to the scene after a passer-by reported that the man was armed, and had given him a suicide note and threated to kill him. Police say the nine officers opened fire because the man pointed a gun at them.

It's standard protocol for officers who shot someone to be placed on administrative leave. The Spokane County Sheriff's Office is investigating the shooting. Once the investigation is finished, it will be sent to the Spokane County Prosecutor's Office for review. ♦

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Nate Sanford

Nate Sanford is a staff writer for the Inlander covering Spokane City Hall and a variety of other news. He joined the paper in 2022 after graduating from Western Washington University. You can reach him at [email protected]