Renton Police Department offer $40K bonus to new recruits

Deputy chief outlines hiring process.

The Renton Police Department is just shy of its budgeted 133 officers, with 128 hired so far, but with a $40,000 bonus for experienced new hires, the department wants to grow.

During the Renton City Council Public Safety Committee meeting May 13, the RPD presented a slideshow detailing how many people applied to the force, how many tested, how many people got past each stage of hiring, the diversity of the force, and other aspects addressing the makeup of the force and the hiring process.

According to Renton Police Department Deputy Chief Ryan Rutledge, despite the force being nearly fully staffed, Renton PD is always trying to replace staff who are retiring and resigning. Rutledge said they want to continue having a balance of new hires and experienced officers, hence their $40,000 hiring bonus for experienced officers available until the end of 2024.

“We’re confident that the continuous list is important to have, and good candidates are important to have because we’re always going to have openings,” Rutledge said. “As we grow, the city grows, and really every department will get more staffing, including police, and we want to be prepared to have a list going and good candidates we’re recruiting for every time we get new employees.”

Rutledge said that diversity is another aspect of hiring that is important to Renton PD. He said they’re always trying to grow diversity in the force, but at the end of the day, no candidate is ever picked over another based on ethnicity or race — rather they’re picked on their ability to be a police officer.

“Diversity in ethnicity, diversity in gender, and diversity in knowing foreign language, just educational experience, diversity of thought, these are all very important,” Rutledge said. “In our organization we found that we’re looking for people that are here to serve, here to help people. That’s the common theme we have with new hires. You’re here to help people, but they also have to be good communicators, they have to be good problem solvers, and they have to be comfortable engaging in de-escalating high-stress and tense incidents with the highest level of professionalism.”

Rutledge said being that they have a relatively low number of officers who are not white, they want to cast a wide net so that people of diverse backgrounds who might not know police officers or don’t have family who are police officers could consider applying. He said there are people who have the qualities needed to be a police officer, but might not have thought of applying because it’s not something that’s crossed their mind, or a career path they’ve seen exemplified around them.

A specific area where Renton PD has more diversity than other agencies nationally is with their female officers. The national average of female officers is 13 percent, while Renton PD’s force consists of 18 percent female officers. Rutledge said this results from how they recruit by showing their culture and highlighting career growth when recruiting. He said it starts with their officers on the ground in the community. Rutledge said this is where people interact with the force, see how professional officers are, and get to know the force’s customer service. He said these interactions go a long way in drawing great candidates to Renton PD.

Hiring process

Rutledge said the hiring process is still very selective. The numbers support that statement, with 1,378 applicants moving forward after the written and physical exams from 2020 to 2023, but each year, only less than 11 new hires joined the force.

Rutledge said some things automatically disqualify a candidate, such as domestic violence charges, assaults and sex crimes. Despite these automatic disqualifiers, Rutledge said they understand people have made mistakes, so when someone completes a personal history statement, they just want people to be truthful.

“We understand that you’re human. Nobody’s perfect. If you’ve made mistakes along the way, just own it. Admit it, own it, and there are a lot of times when there are things we wouldn’t disqualify someone for, but because they didn’t include it or talk about it, and we found out later, we consider that an integrity issue. If you’re not being truthful, that’s an integrity issue,” he said.

An example of something that would most likely be a disqualification if not disclosed, but not necessarily an automatic disqualifier, would be if someone was asked if they had ever smoked marijuana and answered untruthfully. If the candidate said no, they’ve never smoked marijuana, but then after investigating a candidate, they find out that was a lie, Rutledge said that would be a big deal.

Rutledge said although they’ll bring in the candidate for further questioning, in most cases, any untruthfulness will disqualify someone. He said being a police officer is a major responsibility, and they can’t have untruthful people.

But, before they even get to the background checks, Rutledge said candidates who score well on the written exam and who go on to the oral board interviews need to do well. Rutledge said for someone to do well, they need to be well prepared, and having calm confidence helps. He said before interviews, they send out an interview tips video, which covers about 80 percent of the questions, and often, it’s obvious when someone has not prepared.

“The person who gave a phenomenal example who maybe came and talked to officers or had an experience with an officer or has done research and knows specific things about the values of the department or things that the police chief said or an organizational culture they’ve noticed,” Rutledge said. “That kind of well-thought-out answers, those kinds of folks are going to set themselves apart.”