It’s still on plenty of signs in business windows across Central Oregon, but when it’s a police department, that impact is more significant.
Madras Police Department has been operating at half staff for more than six months. Their normal staff of 12 has been reduced to six officers and no police chief.
Director of Police Services Steve Bartol said recruitment and hiring has been the number one focus of his duties since he was hired six months ago.
“I think right now almost all departments across the state, I know very few that would say that they’re fully staffed,” Bartol said.
Recently, six officer candidates and one police chief candidate failed to pass background checks. But Bartol said the hiring delay is about much more than that.
“We’ve really tried to focus on process and making sure that we are really scrutinizing and trying to do the best job we possibly can to hire the best candidate for the city of Madras,” he said. “And I think that the reason we do that is that the troops that still work here deserve that. And more importantly, the community deserves that.”
He said the department has really tried to raise their standards for hiring in anticipation of changing regulations from the state.
Operating with a staff of six is tough, even for a small community like Madras. But other local agencies are helping response times remain consistent.
“If we have an officer that’s on duty and he’s tied up on a call and there’s another call, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office has been awesome about coming out and helping us solve those circumstances,” Bartol said. “Or if it’s a call that demands more resources. Likewise, OSP, the Bend Area Command has been awesome in making sure that they’re paying attention to this area as well and helping us out with things like traffic enforcement.”
Other law enforcement agencies in Central Oregon have a different hiring story to tell, including the Bend Police Department.
So we’re at a 100 [sworn] officers, and if we were at 100%, we’d be at about 103,” said Sheila Miller, the Communications Director for Bend PD.
She said that was certainly not the case during the pandemic and increased hostility toward police officers following the death of George Floyd in 2020.
“I think that led to a sentiment around law enforcement that may have prevented young officers from applying,” Miller said. “I think it also may have contributed to people taking a look and saying, maybe this isn’t what I want to do anymore, or officers who are eligible to retire, retired during that period.”
At their lowest point, they had 27 vacancies at the department.
The Redmond Police Department reported a similar story.
“When we are fully staffed, we have 66 total employees. Right now we have 65. So we have 51 sworn officers and we have another 14 support staff,” said Lt. Jesse Peterson.
Their one vacancy is for a lateral officer position.
“We have applicants that don’t pass background checks,” he said. “We’re very stringent in who we pick up because we want to make sure that they’re fitting the culture and the community that we have here.”
Madras PD hopes small-town life and adding several steps to the pay scale this year will draw better candidates in the future.
People can apply for those officer openings at any time, and the police department will then create a list of 6 to 10 people and set up a couple of days of interviews.
They will interview specifically for the police chief position at the end of this month.