Staffing shortages affect Bellingham Police as special units are mothballed

Bellingham Police — facing a shortage of officers for several reasons — are staffing only their patrol and investigations divisions, the two units that are key to answering 911 calls and solving serious crime. Recent terminations, resignations and retirements have hit the department hard, Deputy Chief Don Almer told The Bellingham Herald.

Hiring new officers has been difficult, forcing command staff to make tough choices, he said. “If people think it’s just the vaccine (requirement), they’re just wrong,” Almer said. “It’s a convergence of events.”

Bellingham lost eight officers in December when Mayor Seth Fleetwood’s order required all city employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, according to information supplied to The Herald in December. But other officers have retired, are injured, are serving in the military, or are attending the law-enforcement academy, leaving a total of 34 employees off the available patrol roster, Almer said. Of the department’s 122 budgeted positions in operations, there are 13 vacancies, he said.

Both the Patrol and Investigations divisions are required to fulfill the Police Department’s primary mission of responding to 911 calls and investigating crime, and those units are staffed, Almer said in a telephone interview. Special programs that have been eliminated include the bicycle patrols, drug/gang task force, outreach, behavioral health, school resource officers and motorcycle traffic patrols, Almer said.