Portage Police and Fire Commission President Tom Drury said the seven members would never sacrifice community values or high standards when interviewing candidates to fill open police officer positions.
If they don’t find the right candidate during the first round of interviews?
“We would start over again,” said Portage Police Chief Ken Manthey.
The commission, made up of seven members including Manthey and Drury, just finished interviews with eight candidates this week as the city hopes to soon select a new police patrol officer to replace Pete Warning, who recently shifted into the role of school resource officer.
The biggest difference in hiring procedures from previous years is that far fewer people are applying for police jobs overall, and far more departments are competing for the best candidates.
In 2018, only nine people applied for an open police officer position. This year, 22 people applied, and 20 of them went on to conduct initial interviews.
That’s down from several years ago, Manthey recalls, when at least 100 people often applied for a single job.
That’s common everywhere, Manthey said, as police departments nationwide are seeing fewer applicants.
“We’ve been fortunate still to get strong candidates, even with the lower numbers,” Drury said.
Portage’s police department used to rely on a state-sponsored standardized test to narrow the field of applicants. Now, Portage Assistant Police Chief Keith Klafke serves as “quality control,” Manthey said.
Drury credits the community’s and the local police force’s good reputation for the continuous flow of good candidates coming through.
Content of character, a solid moral compass, willingness to adhere to a challenging schedule and a focus on community involvement are some key aspects the commission seeks in candidates.
And those high standards never change, Drury said.
“There are still many good, qualified candidates out there, there’s just not as many as there used to be,” Manthey added.
Competition is also increasingly challenging. About 70 police departments in Wisconsin are currently vying for qualified officers.
All in all, it can take at least six months to get a new police officer out on their own in the city from the time of advertising an open position through post-hiring training periods.
Klafke and Portage Patrol Lt. Rich Hoege conduct background interviews on the top three choices by visiting their hometowns and asking neighbors and local officials about them. About a week is dedicated to vetting each top candidate.
After a hire, the new officer must undergo roughly 10 weeks of training before they’re ready to serve on their own.
“You can tell when you’ve found the right candidate,” Manthey said. “You come away with a good feeling.”