SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash., June 6, 2022 – The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office announces a permanent reassignment of specialty units to patrol to offset staffing shortages and provide a safer working environment for deputies. The staffing changes will take effect this month.
“Over the past couple years, law enforcement in the state of Washington has faced staffing challenges for several reasons, including some elected leaders and some of the media depicting law enforcement as a less than honorable profession,” Sheriff Adam Fortney wrote in today’s announcement.
Currently, there are 27 deputy vacancies, Courtney O’Keefe, Director of Communications for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, shared with the Lynnwood Times.
“It takes approximately 1 year for an entry-level [deputy] to be fully trained and on solo patrol,” O’Keefe wrote in a statement to the Times. “And it takes approximately 2-3 months for a lateral officer to be fully trained and on solo patrol.”
The three specialty units impacted by the staff reassignments to fill vacancies are:
- Office of Neighborhoods, 4 positions
- Directed Patrol, 2 positions
- K-9, 5 positions
“This does not mean we have given up on these units, it simply means that for the foreseeable future (6-12 months) they will be working full time patrol beats and responding to 911 calls for service,” Sheriff Fortney wrote.
Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers in a statement to the Lynnwood Times shared that safety is a top priority and his team is looking into alternative means of deploying social workers from the Office of Neighborhoods.
“Public safety is Snohomish County’s top priority,” Executive Somers wrote. “We will continue to do all we can to support the Sheriff’s Office as it works to fill open deputy positions. We are also looking to find alternative means of deploying our social workers from the Office of Neighborhoods.”
The Office of Neighborhoods (OON) currently has four deputies who team up with social workers to go into the field to identify, locate, and connect with homeless and vulnerable populations within Snohomish County. Founded in 2015, OON began as a part of the city of Everett’s safe street initiative, a multi-agency task force comprised of different organizations and businesses within the community, working to develop creative and innovative solutions to homelessness throughout the county.
Directed Patrol (DP), usually has three deputies, but currently only has two who will both be reassigned to patrol, is a proactive unit focused on reducing criminal activity, arresting warrant subjects and proactively patrolling the county to keep residents safe. This specialty unit typically results in the recovery of illegal firearms and drugs off Snohomish County streets.
The K-9 unit currently has five deputies who assist law enforcement agencies all over the county (including city agencies) with tracking, locating and apprehending criminals.
According to O’Keefe, employee attrition – resignation and retirements – are up 50%. The Sheriff’s Office has only been able to fill 16 of the 30 deputies it has lost so far this year.
Sheriff’s message on staffing changes in its entirety
Residents of Snohomish County,
In 2019, the residents of Snohomish County gave me the opportunity to lead the Sheriff’s Office and deliver police services to unincorporated Snohomish County and our contract partners. I have tried my best to honor the position you all elected me to, and I have tried to create a more open and transparent Sheriff’s Office. This is reflected in our vision statement, “The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office will prioritize public trust and community safety by reducing crime through professional policing and correctional services, founded on accountability and compassion.” Public trust and community safety is paramount for me and as the community members who we serve each day, you deserve to know what is going on within our agency.
Transparency includes sharing with our community the good news, as well as the difficult news. While the following staffing decisions were hard to make, I also know it is the right decision at this moment in history to ensure we can protect our community and protect our first responders.
Over the past couple years, law enforcement in the state of Washington has faced staffing challenges for several reasons, including some elected leaders and some of the media depicting law enforcement as a less than honorable profession. At the Sheriff’s Office, we still believe this is an honorable profession and in fact, have been able to fair pretty well setting a hiring record in 2021. However, this has not been sustainable for us into 2022, and law enforcement officers around our state are choosing to leave this profession at a faster rate than we can hire.
Staffing shortages, combined with criminals seemingly becoming more emboldened and more violent, has created a safety issue for our deputies. In the last three weeks, we have had four deputies sent to the hospital (all ok) and a total of three Code 3 (help the officer) calls where deputies were being seriously assaulted (kicked in the head, punched in the face, etc.) and their back up units took far too long to get on scene. For context, in over 20 years that I worked patrol in Snohomish County, I have only ever heard three Code 3 (help the officer) calls.
During the most recent incident, a deputy was being so severely assaulted in south county that he was unable to get on his radio to call for help, and it became very clear to us that we needed to make drastic changes to our patrol staffing in order to do everything we can to safely respond to 911 calls, protect our community, and make sure our deputies make it home to their families at night. We have tried incremental and less impactful staffing changes along the way, but it is simply not working. Our response times to get adequate resources on scene for what could be a life-or-death incident is taking far too long due to our patrol crews being understaffed in a county of our size.
Starting in mid-June, the Sheriff’s Office will be permanently reassigning several specialty units back to patrol crews; this includes Office of Neighborhoods (OON), Directed Patrol (DP) and our K-9 unit. Everyone currently working these units is being reassigned to a patrol crew to fill current vacancies. I want to be clear that I believe in everything these specialty units are doing for our community, but at this time we need them to help stabilize our patrol division and ensure safety remains our top priority. This does not mean we have given up on these units, it simply means that for the foreseeable future (6-12 months) they will be working full time patrol beats and responding to 911 calls for service. If our staffing situation dramatically improves, we could reestablish these specialty units sooner.
As your Sheriff, my top priority is public safety in Snohomish County and I will continue to do everything possible to ensure our deputies are given the resources they need to safely serve and protect our community.
Thank you for trusting us to serve you!
Sheriff Adam Fortney