By Mitchell Roland

During Tuesday’s (April 20, 2021) Kent City Council meeting, Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla updated the council on the city’s efforts to recruit and hire candidates of color, while Chief Administrative Officer Derek Matheson informed the council on the progress The American Rescue Plan Framework Committee has made.

Kent Police amending department hiring policies
The Kent Police Department has amended several hiring policies and procedures to hire a more diverse, and younger, police force, Padilla told the city council during the meeting. According to Kent police data, while Kent’s population is 12.4% African American, its police force is 4.52% African American. Currently, 10.1% of applicants for Kent’s police department are African American.

“We’ve made some movement, we’ll continue to do work,” Padilla said. “And our commitment is that we’re going to continue to do all that we can do to recruit and retain BIPOC community members to join our police officers.”

To encourage a more diverse applicant pool, Padilla has enacted several changes. One policy Padilla said was creating an obstacle was the amount of paperwork that applicants fill out.

“One of the things that’s very cumbersome when you apply is that you have to fill out, it’s about 32 pages of personal history questionnaire,” Padilla said. “That, we notice, in looking at our data has been a sticking point, particularly for candidates of color.”

Padilla said the department partnered with a service called Guardian to help applicants with their paperwork. This has led to a higher percentage of candidates completing the required paperwork.

The department has also “moved away from charging fees for anyone who can demonstrate they are not able to afford it.”

“Hopefully, we have removed that barrier,” Padilla said.

The Kent Police Department recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the police union to offer an incentive of 3% to officers who are proficient in another language.

Padilla said officers are still prohibited from using illicit drugs, however, the department has reduced the time of the prohibition.

“We had a pretty strong yearlong prohibition on that, it was kind of a bright line,” Padilla said. “We reconsidered that and made some adjustment there.”

In a question-and-answer session with councilmembers, Padilla said while recreational marijuana is legal in Washington state, it is prohibited for officers. Part of the original thinking behind the year period was officers showing an ability and willingness not to smoke, Padilla said.

“It’s a demonstrated commitment to the lifestyle that you will have to hold as a police officer,” Padilla said.

To recruit new candidates, Padilla said the department has partnered with several faith-based leaders in the Kent community.

“We’re hoping to see some decent returns on that, in connections and referrals,” Padilla said.
The department has adapted its hair and tattoo policies for officers on the force.

“We’ve modernized that, and got that caught up so that there isn’t barriers that come with maybe cultural specific hairstyles or religion preferences, or anything like that,” Padilla said.

Stimulus committee to meet next Thursday
The American Rescue Plan Framework Committee will hold another meeting next Thursday to continue to develop a “high-level framework” for Kent’s $28.41 million in federal recovery funds, Matheson said.
“The focus of the next meeting will be on our estimated lost revenues,” Matheson said. “But we’re also hoping to have more guidance from the US Treasury, more information on other Federal AARPA programs, and a better sense of what the state, counties, and other cities are doing.”

The money that the city receives must be spent by the end of 2024, and any framework that the committee develops will still need to be passed by the council. The American Rescue Plan Framework Committee consists of Mayor Dana Ralph, two council members, the Chief Administrative Officer and Finance Director of Kent.