Billboard advertises $15K signing bonus to lure Austin police officers to Washington state

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new job recruitment effort could stretch resources at the Austin Police Department and other nearby agencies even thinner.

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office in Washington state recently paid to put up a billboard along U.S. 183 south near Montopolis. It’s essentially a “help wanted” ad that is specifically looking to lure away dozens of local law enforcement to become deputies in the Spokane area.

“We’ve been doing this recruiting effort all summer long,” Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said Monday. “We’ve chosen areas around the country that have a history of not showing a lot of support for their local law enforcement. Austin has a reputation of not really supporting their local law enforcement.”

Knezovich told KXAN that his research identified Austin as a place where he may be able to find current law enforcement officers who’d be willing to leave and fill at least 40 openings at his office. Billboards similar to the one in Austin went up recently in Portland, Seattle and Denver. He claims those efforts helped lead to his office gaining 20 deputies from other agencies.

“I look forward to talking to more of the individuals that wear a badge down in the Austin area,” the sheriff said. “And I look forward to pinning a Spokane County badge on them.”

His research may have focused on the Austin City Council’s decision to cut and redirect millions from the police department’s budget last year. That led Texas state lawmakers to approve legislation during the regular session that punishes cities that cut funding for police. However, the latest $4.5 billion budget approved by Austin city leaders in August included a record $442 million specifically for the police department.

Hiring and retaining officers have been an ongoing issue locally. Joseph Chacon, the interim police chief in Austin, previously said the department has 1,809 positions, and 1,650 are filled. He added that APD is losing an average of 15 officers per month.

Because of those circumstances in Austin, Knezovich responded to a question about what he would say to local law enforcement leaders who may criticize him for trying to poach workers thousands of miles away.

“I guess to the agencies that lose them, I would ask them to maybe reflect on their local elected leaders and their efforts to maintain their employees,” Knezovich said. “You don’t do that when you talk about defunding and devaluing the profession, and the areas where we’re recruiting from have shown that they have.”

KXAN reached out Monday afternoon to the City of Austin and the Austin Police Department for comment about Spokane County’s job recruitment effort in Austin. However, none was available to share at this time.

Additionally, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office is offering a hiring bonus of $15,000 to any law enforcement officers who jump ship to become a deputy. Knezovich said his county leaders are looking at other incentives to attract more applicants outside the Spokane area.

“We do really support our law enforcement here, and it’s basically of putting money where your mouth is,” Knezovich said. “We’re willing to pay to get the best and the brightest from around the United States to come work for us.”

Even though the Austin billboard is so new, the sheriff claims his office already received calls from local officers inquiring about the deputy jobs in Spokane County. His goal is to fill at least 14 openings immediately with experienced law enforcement officers.

Knezovich also said his office is eyeing a billboard in Times Square in an attempt to lure away New York City police officers.

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