Village narrows search for new police chief

By on May 2, 2013

by Cheryl Borrowdale
SUGAR GROVE—The top eight candidates for Sugar Grove police chief were brought in for a full day of interviews and performance-based exercises last week, as the village enters the final stages of its hiring process.

Village Administrator Brent Eichelberger said that the hiring committee plans to recommend two to four candidates to the board by Tuesday, May 7. The new chief should be hired by the end of May and will likely start in mid-to-late June.

Though former police chief Bradley Sauer retired in June 2012, the village decided to hire an interim police chief, Ron Moser, and wait until after the April 9 election to appoint a permanent police chief. Since the police chief position is appointed by the Board of Trustees, Eichelberger said, there was a risk that a chief would be appointed by the board and then, after the election, the chief might have to be reappointed by new trustees.

That scenario would have discouraged many of the best candidates from applying, he said.

“When you are recruiting to fill an appointed position, your candidates will look at where you are in the election cycle,” Eichelberger said. “If your candidate has a job they enjoy, and they have a supervisor position but want to become a chief, they’re going to check, ‘If I get appointed to this position now, where are we in the election cycle? Will I accept a position knowing that five of the people who hired me could be new, and I may not be reappointed?’ Most places will have somebody (in the interim) until they are through the election cycle.”

The village posted the position, which has a salary range of $89,000 to $108,000, in January, in order to be ready to hire a candidate in May. Finance manager Justin VanVooren said that 132 candidates had applied, nearly double the number he had expected.

“I think it’s a testament to people wanting to work in Sugar Grove. I don’t think it’s the economy at all,” he said.

Eichelberger said he was pleased with the quality of applicants.

“Typically, you get a fair number of people who really aren’t qualified and are just taking a shot, but only a handful of these (applicants) were people who you wondered why they even applied,” he said.

That list of 132 candidates went before Eichelberger, VanVooren and Moser—the three members of the search committee—who then drew up a list of qualifications they were seeking. The three independently went through the resumes, each creating a short list of the best candidates, then compared their lists and agreed to advance 29 candidates to the second stage in the process, a set of written questions. The top eight candidates were then brought in for in-depth interviews.

Eichelberger said the village was looking for a candidate who could bring new skills to a growing police department.

“The likely successful candidate will have good experience in communities that do things that we’re not doing yet in Sugar Grove or that we could do better,” he said. “We are looking for someone with different experiences, be that in how officers are assigned or in technology or in intelligent policing strategies.”

Someone with experience in statistical analysis could help the department identify trends and maximize its resources, Eichelberger said, by using data to determine how many officers are needed on a particular shift. He also said that finding someone who can build relationships with others, especially the School District, is also important.

“You’re always trying to find people who get along well with the various stakeholders, the residents, the administrators, the other people they work with,” he said. “One of the things that Moser brought with him is that our officers are spending more time with the schools, which is creating familiarity.

“If an individual has contact with the police this way, there’s a relationship there when something happens. It lets people get to know the police officers in a friendly way when there are no problems, and it gets our officers in the schools and familiar with students and the school layout. God forbid, if anything happens, that should help with the response.”

One thing that surprised Eichelberger as he went through the resumes was the lack of female applicants.

“A couple of us were disappointed that we did not get a single female applicant,” he said. “We were really surprised. It’s fair to say that there still aren’t a lot of females overall in the police ranks who have advanced to senior positions, but they’re out there. We wouldn’t have advanced anyone just because they were female, but we all know women in law enforcement who are excellent.”

The final eight candidates faced a full day of interviews this week. In addition to meeting with the department heads, candidates spent time with the sergeants they would be supervising; toured the fire department and the emergency management center; met with the fire chief, who they would work closely with; and did hands-on exercises to show how they would perform on the job. The village also had outside consultants in attendance to observe, and had the candidates complete a personality profile, Eichelberger said.

“Part of the strategy behind it (is that) when you spend that much time with someone, you really get to know them. There’s a big difference between meeting with someone for 45 minutes to an hour versus spending eight hours with them,” he said. “We want to get to know their personality.”

The search committee will discuss their observations, rank all eight candidates and put together a written summary on each, and then recommend two to four of them to the Board of Trustees. The final decision will be up to the board, VanVooren said.

“We’re confident that we’re going to identify individuals, and the board will make the selection that’s best for the community,” Eichelberger said.