The Coeur d’Alene Police Department in Kootenai County, Idaho, doesn’t have a problem recruiting officers. Just the opposite – applications continually flow in from places all around the country.
However, recruiters face an obstacle they don’t have much control over when bringing in new talent – the surging real estate market.
According to the Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Press, housing prices in the North Idaho county skyrocketed over the past five years.
In April this year, the Wall Street Journal/Realtor.com Emerging Housing Market Index determined that Coeur d’Alene was the country’s hottest emerging housing market.
According to the Coeur d’Alene Association of Realtors, the average residential sale price in the Coeur d’Alene region rose in March to $476,000 – an increase of 47% from the previous year.
As a result, officers from around the country – including lateral transfers from other police departments – who are attracted to the area for its low crime rate and outdoor lifestyle cannot afford to live there.
“Five years ago, the cost of living in Coeur d’Alene was much more reasonable,” Coeur d’Alene Police Capt. Dave Hagar said. “Now it’s gone above that.”
Hagar said that the department is always looking to hire a mix of local and lateral candidates to bring in a diversity of ideas, techniques and perspectives.
“We constantly have to evolve to meet the needs of our community. A diversified employee group works really well for us,” he said.
Likewise, the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office is also recruiting officers from outside the region. The Idaho agency currently places advertisements in law enforcement trade publications in Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland – cities in which law enforcement is lacking support.
Kootenai County Sheriff Bob Norris said his agency targets those officers working in cities that do not support them. “Especially those good officers that are in communities that are struggling with supporting their law enforcement agencies,” he said.
However, Norris said that lateral officers have accepted offers only to find they cannot afford housing.
“It’s a significant barrier,” he said. “The housing situation is severe.”
For local candidates, the prices are also often unmanageable.
Norris referred to one of his employees who was forced to move out of state to live with family when his rent increased by $800 a month.
The agency is not just recruiting deputies, but also dispatchers, control room operators, clerks and jail staff. However, their wages have not risen to meet the housing demand.
“We’re going to have to attract local candidates,” Norris said. “We can’t do that when some of our pay is $14 or $15 an hour.”
Norris said that the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners sets the budget for the agency, but there is no sign of a pay raise in the near future.
“We don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel,” he declared.
Kootenai County Commissioner Bill Brooks sympathized with Norris, and said the sheriff’s office isn’t the only agency struggling to find and retain employees.
“It’s crazy. We’ve had people accept jobs and come back two days later saying, ‘I can’t live here,’” Brooks said.
Brooks said funding reasonable wage increases or retention bonuses for local agencies is his top priority this year.
“We’re trying to craft a budget that nobody is happy with but that we can all live with,” Brooks said. “This is a needs-only budget.”
Brooks added that there is no simple or fast solution to the problem of stagnant wages and a rising cost of living.
“We’re going to have to suffer through this together,” he said. “Everyone in Kootenai County.”