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This story is the fifth in a series examining the mass-migration of West Coast residents to Idaho. Read parts one, two, three and four.

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Seth Horst used to avoid telling strangers what he did for a living. "Police officer" felt like a four-letter word in 2020, especially in California.

Fast-forward a year and Horst stood with his family in downtown Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, watching fire trucks and police cars roll through the street for the city's Independence Day celebration. The Kootenai County sheriff waved at residents from the back of a pickup truck, a revolver snug against his hip, Horst recalled. Cars, homes and businesses around town display the blue line flag year-round, and Horst said it's not unusual for people to offer to buy coffee for police when they see them out in the streets.

"That is so powerful for the men and women in uniform up here to have that backing," said Horst, who left California Highway Patrol and started a real estate business in North Idaho. "It's a pretty phenomenal place to do the job."

Real estate agent Seth Horst

Seth Horst and his family relocated from Chico, California, to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho in September 2020. Now he co-owns Your North Idaho Agent and runs a podcast and YouTube channel called Residing in North Idaho. (Hannah Ray Lambert/Fox News Digital)

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The Gem State has become a popular moving destination for both retired and active-duty police officers, a trend Horst and Idaho Fraternal Order of Police President Bryan Lovell broadly attribute to a more positive climate.

"They come to Idaho where they can enjoy their career and make a difference," Lovell told Fox News Digital. "They see that, in large part, our communities are supportive of law enforcement and public safety."

Cities large and small across the country suffered severe staffing shortages on the heels of anti-police protests in 2020. Four years later, some departments still can’t stop the bleeding.

Seattle’s police staffing is at its lowest level since the 1990s, according to a March KING 5 report. Earlier this year in California, the Alameda Police Department offered a $75,000 signing bonus — the highest in the nation — on top of a six-figure starting salary to try to entice new officers.

And while Lovell said Idaho hasn't been immune to recruiting challenges, the state also saw a wave of out-of-state police applications around the same time other departments began losing officers. 

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The number of officers from other states who applied for certification in Idaho more than doubled from 2019 to 2021, according to data from the Idaho Peace Officer Standards & Training (POST). While the annual applications have dwindled since then, they remain above pre-2020 levels.

Lovell said officers from other states have called him, looking for employment. Many were frustrated with local policies that defunded police departments or decriminalized drugs, he said.

"The district attorney doesn't back them, there's too much liability, so the department won't let them enforce the law, which is their job," Horst said. "And that bugs a lot of people."

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"They get a job up here, oftentimes taking a huge pay cut because the pay here does not compare to a lot of states," he added. "But it's worth it to them to raise their families in a place that is safe and has those old-school values."

An officer joining the Coeur d’Alene Police Department could expect to make between $63,000 and $89,000 per year before overtime, according to a recent job posting. The range is larger for the Idaho State Patrol, starting at about $48,000 per year but going up to nearly $103,000.

But the biggest blue boost in Idaho comes from retirees, Lovell and Horst said.

Retired police officers from Los Angeles, San Diego and other Golden State cities gather regularly for coffee, said Horst, who keeps up with several retiree groups. Around 40 former Seattle officers also live in the area, he added. It makes sense — California, Washington and Oregon are the three states fueling Idaho's rapid population growth.

Hands hold Phoenix Police patch and a challenge coin

Horst sets himself apart from other real estate agents in North Idaho by putting his law enforcement background front and center. His business partners are also former first responders (police and fire), and many — but not all — of their clients come from that world. Challenge coins and police department patches from across the country cover the shelves in his studio, gifts from clients and other people he meets. (Hannah Ray Lambert/Fox News Digital)

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The Los Angeles Times reported last December that California public employees were leaving the state in droves and taking their pensions with them. The Boise suburb of Eagle received more CalPERS money in 2022 than any other ZIP code outside of California, according to the Times' analysis.

"I'm sure the state of California funds a lot of the stuff in North Idaho," Horst said.

But the high concentration of former first responders offers something less tangible than money. It gives people like Horst, who moved to the area without already having strong social circles, a home away from home.

"To have that immediate bond where they can go and just feel safe, talk with somebody, share stories, that kind of resource is huge," he said. "And I think that's a big draw for men and women that come from this world."

Fox News' Ramiro Vargas contributed to the accompanying video.

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