Non-traditional Hiring of Police Officers in a Small Department

Hiring Police Officers has always been a problematic issue. This is compounded in small departments looking for part-time officers. The Copley, Ohio, Police Department wanted to hire three to five part-time officers. Copley Township, consists of 11,000 residents in 19.6 square miles, just west of the City of Akron, and is part of a fast growing commercial area. The department had recently under gone a great deal of internal stress that resulted in the Chief being fired. After a long search process, outside the department, a new Chief was hired.

Traditionally, small departments use a somewhat haphazard hiring method for part time hires. Either those with friends or officers who happen to be at the right time and the right places are hired. The new administration wanted to hire on a merit basis but, did not view the traditional testing as appropriate. After some consideration and discussion the following method was adopted.

The first decision was to make the pool of part-timer officers the pool for future full-time hires. All current part-time officers were contacted and told that if they wanted to be considered for full time they would have to go through the new testing process. The testing process would only affect their eligibility for full time consideration and would not affect their status. One officer responded and was tested along with the potential new hires.

The minimum requirements included over twenty-one years old, High School graduate, no felony record, height proportional to weight, a good driving record and Ohio Peace Officer's Training Council Certificate. The last qualification was to reduce the training cost to the department although this reduced the pool of potential applicants. The Department ran an advertisement in both the local daily and weekly general circulation newspapers asking for letters of interest and resumes.

At the cutoff date for the advertisements the department had received approximately 125 applications. All the applicants' packages were given to the communications sergeant for driving record and criminal background checks. Any applicant with any questionable background or driving record was eliminated. A few potential promising applicants were eliminated because of their driving record.

At this point the first look at the applicant pool was to weed out those who did not meet the minimum requirements. For the most part this was those applications who did not have the OPTA certificate. The remaining applications were given to the ranking officers for review. This review consisted of the four sergeants, the chief and the police consultant.

This process went on for about three weeks. Often during this period informal contact was made with key informants in other departments to check on the applicants. This process reduced the applicant pool to twenty individuals that the department considered for testing. The final application pool consisted of eighteen men and two women. Of the twenty formal applications distributed eighteen were completed and returned to the department.

By now the process had moved from August till early December. The testing was set for a Saturday in the second week of December. The site of the test was the local High School. As the day of the test arrived so did the heaviest snow fall of the 1992-1993 winter. Fourteen candidates showed up for the testing process.

The testing process consisted of four stages. These were 1) a leaderless group exercise, 2) a written exercise, a 3) an agility test, and 4) a structured interview. As the candidates arrived, they signed in and were given a number. This number was the testing identification. Through a drawing of lots the candidates were divided into three different groups and were run through the testing in these groups.

The leaderless group exercises consisted of giving the candidates a scenario with the instructions that they all were new officers and had decided to meet and solve the given problem. The only rule was that whatever the solution, they had to all agree. Forty-five minutes were allocated to this exercise. All three groups finished well within the specified time. This exercise was evaluated by the staff officers of the department. Each officer was assigned a number at random to evaluate. The evaluators were given a structured evaluation form with several items for them to use to evaluate their subject. As an after thought, we deduced that the scenario was not problematic enough.

As the applicants finished each segment of the test they moved on to the next portion. There was a break time between each and the department provided the obligatory coffee and donuts. The second exercise consisted of two parts. First the candidates viewed a video tape of a traffic stop and arrest. The whole episode was developed to be problematic and although it was produced by the department and used officers as actors it appeared to be a real incident.

After the candidates viewed the tape they were given instructions to assume they were witnesses, not involved, in the incident, and the chief had asked them to type a confidential about the incident. The idea here was to try and gauge the candidates written communication skills. The concern was not so much what they said, although that was a consideration, but how they said it. The department is heavily computerized and all confidential, interdepartmental communications, I.D. records, and reports are kept on the computer system. No one expected the candidates to have the necessary computer skills, but the typewriter was used to see potential keyboard skills. This test was monitored by an English teacher and she evaluated the grammatical and spelling of the applicants. The Chief and the police consultant evaluated the papers for content.

The third exercise and final exercise of the day was an agility test. The test was designed with the aid of a Physical Education teacher and the police consultant with the Phys. Ed. teacher and some students monitoring the exercise. Care was taken to ensure that the test actually measured realistic exception of actual police work. It is worth noting that all but one person passed all the elements of the agility test. The only element that a candidate failed was touching one's toes. The candidate that did not pass this element is a weight lifter.

The stage of the testing took about five hours to complete. As the candidates left they were asked to sign up for the structured interview. The structured interviews consisted of three of the four sergeants sitting as a panel to interview the candidates. The panel had structured questions to ask and forms to evaluate the candidates' responses. The chief and the police consultant sat in on these interviews and while they did not evaluate the candidates, they did on occasions ask question or aid the flow of the interview.

After all the exercises were evaluated, the police consultant took the various scores and turned them all into "Z" scores. This allowed a ranking based on the placement on each exercise. Please note, that this process took four qualitative individual scores and turned them into a quantitative interval score. This ranking was given to the chief and with input from the police consultant five candidates were selected for a provisional job offer and six were eliminated from consideration while three candidates remained on the list.

The five candidates were given provisional job offers that allowed the department to send the candidates for a complete medical, including drug screening, a complete full day of physiological testing, and an integrity interview. The department contracted with a private agency to do the background and reference check and the integrity interview.

Each potential officer went through the physiological screening. This process included a full eight hours of testing and interviews with the physiologist The physiologist reported his findings and reduce his recommendations to a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 2 and 2.5 being the acceptable range. In our case he scored two of the applicants with a 2.5. We accepted these results and hired all five.

Each officer was assigned a field training program and told they would be on probation until they worked 1,040 hours. At this point they would be evaluated and pass their probation period. The department is not civil service, but the full-time and part-time officers have union representation.

Was the effort worth while? Did the program eliminate problematic issued encountered in hiring? At first glance the answer maybe no! What happened? Let's examine the officers. The first to reach the evaluation of the probationary period was the female officer. The young lady was guaranteed a job since the department was looking to recruit females and minorities. She also held a part-time position in another department.  She left the daparment...

The second problem developed with an officer who never worked. By Department policy all part-time officers are expected to work three eight-hour shifts a month. The expectation of the new officers was that they would work more. This candidate was a security supervisor in the largest local hospital and held a reserve commission with the Akron Police Department. In the same amount of time that an officer worked 1,200 hours he had only put in 100 hours. After several warnings he was asked to resign.

The other three  have proven to be excellent officers. Of these two are in line for full time positions when there is an opening. The third officer has a full-time job elsewhere. The department has hired two more part-time officers off the list before its expiration point.

If we discount the female officer, since in reality she had a pass and it difficult to tell if she would have been hired in a gender blind procedure. The second problem was outside the testing process. One interview item was the availability to work and the candidate responded in a positive manor. There is some supposition that when a person applies or a job and agrees to work that they will. He would have been a good officer, but his priorities were elsewhere.

The two new hires will tell if the testing procedure worked. Although, it is disappointing to have a failure rate of two individuals with the process, the department is planing to make a new eligibility list toward the end of the year.