SUNNYSIDE — Four vacant positions at the Sunnyside Police Department and another potential four becoming available in the near future are just a part of the personnel woes Chief Al Escalera is facing.
At this past Monday’s Sunnyside Public Safety Subcommittee meeting, he detailed challenges the department has, but staff is the most critical issue.
Currently, there are vacant commander, sergeant and two patrol vacancies.
There are four additional patrol officers looking for work elsewhere — with different agencies or other opportunities, Escalera said to those present, including Councilmen John Henry and Dean Broersma.
Those vacancies are the equivalent of an entire squad.
The news didn’t get any better as Escalera said one officer is on medical leave and another is off duty under the Family Medical Leave Act, and there are 11 commissioned officers eligible for retirement.
“They could retire today, if they wanted,” Escalera said.
“That’s the scary part.”
He said the department is trying to keep those officers looking at other employment opportunities, but there are more enticing offers with different agencies and employers.
City Manager Martin Casey commented, “It’s unfortunate, but not a rare problem in law enforcement.”
Escalera believes it is imperative to hire two additional officers each year to prevent the 29-commissioned officer staff from depleting too quickly.
Cmdr. Scott Bailey said there are a couple officers looking at retirement in the next year or so.
Hiring a “balloon package” of officers, he said, is not feasible due to the inability of field officers to handle the workload.
When tallying up the vacancies and threat of additional vacancies, it’s 65 percent of the officer force.
The chief and commander said hiring isn’t an overnight thing because it takes between 12 and 18 months before an officer is “street ready.” They must undergo background and psychological evaluations, as well as undergo training at the Criminal Justice Training Center at which there is a 4-6 month waiting list.