Brier’s new Chief of Police Nick Almquist said his number-one focus since being hired in January is ensuring his department is fully staffed – and that includes being open to hiring officers who were fired from other police departments due to their vaccination status.
Almquist, who was sworn in during a ceremony at the Brier City Council’s March 1 workshop, said he is looking forward to staffing up so the city can end its contract with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office “and we can start relieving the burden of having to hire the overtime for them.
“I’m really excited about getting us to fully staffing and thanking the sheriff’s department for their assistance, but also saying, ‘See you later,’” he added.
When fully staffed, the Brier Police Department has six sworn officers, in addition to the chief position, and a records supervisor. The city has experienced difficulties with attracting and retaining police officers, which led to it temporarily contracting with the sheriff’s office for additional services.
“When I came, we had three of the six positions already filled so I’m in the process of filling those three (open) positions,” Almquist said in an interview last week, adding he had four current applicants. During that interview, he also responded to concerns from some councilmembers and residents that he was considering applicants who had been let go from their previously employers because they didn’t comply with requirements to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
“They’re all in good standing but got let go because of that (the vaccine mandate) issue,” Almquist told the Brier City Council during its Feb. 22 business meeting.
Several councilmembers thanked Almquist for his recruiting and staffing efforts. It was acknowledged that the City of Brier doesn’t have an employee COVID-19 vaccination policy, and none of the councilmembers advocated for a mandate. But some on the council said they were concerned about how the city’s residents would perceive the department recruiting and/or hiring officers who were out of jobs for refusing to get vaccinated.
Following the council’s workshop, a post on the Brier Community Group page on Facebook subsequently drew more than 450 comments about the topic, indicating that people were divided over the issue. In response, Mayor Dale Kaemingk posted a letter to the community on the City of Brier’s website.
In the letter, Kaemingk noted that the Brier does not currently have a vaccination mandate for any of its employees. “We are far from alone in this position,” he wrote. “I am currently not aware of any city in Snohomish County with a vaccination mandate for all its first responders. Snohomish County has also chosen not to have a mandate, relying instead on federal guidance issued through OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard.”
During the Feb. 22 meeting, councilmembers agreed they have a responsibility to help keep residents safe, although they had differing opinions on what role an applicant’s vaccination status should play when staffing the police department. Another concern raised was the possibility of hiring unvaccinated personnel and then not having enough available or deployable officers during another possible surge in COVID-19 infections — if the virus were to spread among the department.
During his interview with MLTnews, Almquist said that not placing an emphasis on an applicant’s vaccination status allows the department to possibly draw interest from job candidates who might not otherwise seek the positions. “Being a non-mandated city, we have the ability to recruit a larger pool of officers that had been let go because of mandates of agencies that they were at,” he noted. “So, it does create more of an interest in Brier because we are non-mandated.”
Almquist continued, “I am not out there saying I’m only going to recruit folks in that category, because of the four that have applied, they’re not all unvaxxed, it’s a mix.”
Addressing the firestorm of comments on social media and divided community opinions, he said, “I would say that the takeaway from this is that I am trying to recruit a team of officers that is highly qualified, is wanting to invest in the community of Brier, and whether they’re vaxxed or unvaxxed is not a concern of mine. My concern is that the individuals that I choose to hire are ones of high quality, well trained and with the ability to have a servant’s heart.”
Almquist added that he’s “all about transparency,” and also recognizes there’s a diverse range of opinions on vaccinations and law enforcement.
He estimated that “with the progress of some of the candidates, I would say in the next two weeks to 30 days we could have all three (open) positions filled.” Almquist said all four of the current candidates are certified through the state’s law enforcement academy, although “once they get here, they’ll have to still go through our field training program,” which assesses their skills and also teaches them the local and departmental procedures.
Almquist noted he wants everyone on staff “to feel safe” when changes to Washington state’s mask-wearing guidelines go into effect on March 12, adding, “I’m not going to have a directive that they need to wear masks or not wear masks, I’m going to really leave it up to them” as individual officers based on the situations that they encounter.
Almquist said he’s also been working with the city council to potentially replace three patrol vehicles that are nearing the end of their useful lifespans and have become unreliable. The department’s chief’s car was recently replaced, which Almquist said “had been due for several years.”
Almquist is also working to replace some of the department’s other aging equipment. He said their Vietnam-era long rifles are in the process of being upgraded, adding, “(we’ve) got to have stuff that’s newer than 30 years.”
“I just have been focusing on making sure that the tools that they have like the firearms, the training, all of these things are being cared for and upgraded,” Almquist said. “So that they do have the ability to do their job in the most reasonable and necessary way.”
He also reported “working on organizing our National Night Out event,” which he hopes will be held this year, and looking at community-oriented policing programs in Brier such as its patchwork of areas with neighborhood watch programs. “Those are the things I want to rejuvenate,” the chief added.
Almquist said he’s enjoyed working with the mayor, city council and staff. “I would say that all the city staff, all 19 of them, they’ve just been very open and open arms and receptive to me coming in and so I haven’t had any surprises,” he noted. “Even this vaccination/non-vaccination issue doesn’t surprise me because we’ve been dealing with it for so long. So that doesn’t rock my boat at all, it’s just something that we’ll work through.”
He added that the motto “ ‘If not us, then who?’ is something that has been driven into me for many years, about we (as law enforcement) need to stand when others don’t. We need to be able to have the community trust us in a way that when there’s something critical, something that is community sensitive, that they will know that the Brier police will care for them, that we will take care of it to the best of our abilities.”
Almquist said his message to the community is simple. “I want them to know that in everybody’s taking a side, everybody’s views on politics, if you put all that aside, we are here as peace officers hired to serve them. And that’s exactly what we’ll do.”
— By Nathan Blackwell
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