Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Friday, May 04, 2007

It's Not Just About Pay

Today's Coeur d'Alene Press reports the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department (KCSD) is asking the Kootenai County Board of County Commissioners for $2.1 million in next year's budget for pay raises. In his Press article titled KCSD asks for $2.1 million, reporter Marc Stewart notes, "Money would be used for pay raises in hopes of halting departure of employees." The operative word there is "hopes."

Whitecaps "hopes" the Board of County Commissioners will examine the KCSD's strategic plan (if it has one) to determine exactly what other measures Sheriff Rocky Watson and his command staff have in place to increase retention and morale. Absent a comprehensive hiring and retention plan with valid means of measuring success or failure, giving Watson $2.1 million for higher pay is like putting window screen over a sucking chest wound.

A person's career choice is rarely completely dependent on pay. Pay is important, and people will not apply or remain if the pay is too low. However even in departments with adequate pay, retention becomes an issue when other factors are significant. Other significant factors include poor leadership and supervision, lack of respect for subordinates by superiors, inadequate pre-service and in-service training, poor employee selection practices, few opportunities for specialization and advancement, and few opportunities for advanced education.

For some insight into the problems faced by small departments (KCSD is not a small department), see the International Association of Chiefs of Police's Best Practices Guide - Recruitment and Retention of Qualified Police Personnel. The Guide offers some solutions that could be upscaled and applied in KCSD.

For a more academic yet still practical analysis about law enforcement hiring and retention, see the Urban Institute's studey titled Hiring and Retention Issues in Police Agencies: Readings on the Determinants of Police Strength, Hiring, and Retention of Officers, and the Federal COPS Program. This study was published in October 2001.


Blogger E. H. said...

Okay, let me see if I understand what you are saying. Are you saying that the problem might be something more significant than a buck an hour?

10:27 PM, May 04, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...


Ya think?

It would be very easy to point to the KCSD organization chart starting at the top and say that it is a very professionally run law enforcement organization -- as long as your calendar still says the year is 1970.

Although Watson and his command staff deserve considerable blame for being inept law enforcement administrators, they don't deserve all the blame. They've been perfectly willing to deliver exactly the level of service we county residents were willing to accept rather than the level we needed. Most but not all Idaho law enforcement agencies are pretty sad, especially sheriff's offices. Most are small sheriffs departments (with about 200 employees KCSD is not "small" by law enforcement standards) and are being led by sheriffs who worked their way up within their own department to the point they had enough public recognition and political clout (though not necessarily requisite knowledge, skills, abilities, or education) to get elected.

Over two years ago I posted The Incumbent (Sheriff) Protection Act of 2005. That failed legislative effort sponsored by the Idaho Sheriff's Association was a blatant effort to discourage subordinates who may now be better educated, better prepared, but less politically connected and less susceptible to political influence.

Typically in sheriffs offices, a dead-ender sheriff will run for reelection and win. He will then announce his retirement and annoint one of his politically reliable underlings to serve out his term, thus giving Mini-Me the advantage of incumbancy at the next election. Of course, Mini-Me has to usually be approved by a board of county commissioners or some other governing body, but that's often no obstacle when the governing body wants political reliability and an I-promise-not-to-make-waves sheriff rather than a sheriff who will straighten out the department.

That was what happened in Spokane County last time around. "Clueless But Connected" Mark Sterk annointed equally clueless and connected Cal Walker. Then a funny thing happened on Cal's Cakewalk to sheriff's office. The public and the rank-and-file Spokane County deputies expressed their dissatisfaction with the blatantly political way Sterk had used the sheriff's office and failed to meet their expectations for professional law enforcement. Going against the wishes of their precinct committee critters (who would have been thrilled to see Clueless but Connected Cal carry on in the Sterk tradition), the Spokane County Commissioners appointed a lowly sergeant named Ozzie Knezovich to fill out Sterk's unexpired term. Knezovich was supported not by the Spokane County political reliables but by the deputies and the public. He was experienced, educated, articulate, and most of all, honest. As you know, Knezovich won the election. Incidentally, Walker's pre-election website posted a letter endorsing him. It was written on KCSD letterhead and signed by Watson and a few others who were apparently more interested in political fealty than in ensuring professional law enforcement in Spokane County. Of course, one can reasonably ask why in the world an endorsement from anyone in Idaho law enforcement would benefit a sheriff's candidate in Washington. The election results show that the endorsements from "Idaho's finest" carried no weight at all.

KCSD is in a world of hurt, and it's the deputies and sergeants at the bottom and all the unsworn employees who are being hurt the most. It is no surprise they're leaving. They want fulfilling careers, they want competent and honest leadership from professional law enforcement administrators, not political hacks. They want to do their jobs honestly and safely and go home at the end of their shift. They want to be able to afford to feed, clothe, shelter, and educate their families.

9:25 AM, May 05, 2007  
Blogger stebbijo said...

I worked the medical industry for a long time. The shortages are for real. The answer was always 'pay more money.' Wages went up but problems were never resolved and the stress was still there - one of the reasons I left. Now I make less - but my feet don't hurt when I pack up to go home, and neither does my back. And, I sleep really well at night - most of the time! ;-) Two dollars can make or break a person. I chose the 'lack of' and I am better off for it.

2:46 PM, May 06, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...


Agreed. "Pay more money" is always the first answer but not necessarily the correct one. People choose careers and stick with them for many reasons, and unquestionably, people must make an acceptable wage or salary or they will go somewhere they can. But too often, "pay" is used as an excuse by lazy or incompetent managers who don't want to take time to learn the underlying causes for departures. Neither do they have the knowledge, skills, abilities, or get-up-and-go to identify the underlying problems and find solutions.

People who are satisfied with their career choices, including where and for whom they're working, will stay unless and until the take-home pay simply does not meet their basic needs.

4:39 PM, May 06, 2007  

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