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Congratulations. You and 174 other people have applied online to play "So, you want to be a Forest Grove police officer?" This exciting game will invade every area of your personal life. It is full of surprises and will take 12 to 15 months to complete. Please be patient.



News-Times Graphic: Allison Rogers
Editor's Note: On Dec. 21, Darren Pomeroy will be sworn in as Forest Grove's newest police officer. This seemingly routine step comes after a hiring process that is so long and arduous few people complete it, leaving the Forest Grove Police Department chronically understaffed. In a world where police officers are coming under fire, both literally and figuratively, departments want their officers to excel in character, personality and judgment as well as standard police skills. But the quest for the ideal candidate costs time — as well as stress for the officers struggling to fill in the staffing gaps while they wait. This is Part One of a detailed look at the the FGPD hiring process.

Ten times over the past four years, Bradley Schuetz has applied to be a deputy or a police officer in western Washington County.

He discovered it's one of the most intensive, grueling processes any job applicant can go through — particularly at the Forest Grove Police Department, which adds an extra step to the 10 or so already required by the state.

“It’s not the same as applying to Dick’s Sporting Goods,” said the Tigard area resident.

Andrew Colasurdo, a new Forest Grove officer who started solo patrols in November, agrees: "You don't just fill out a piece of paper and then you're done. It's a daunting task with a million questions."

After nine rejections — partly due to his lack of life experience — the 25-year-old Schuetz finally hit the jackpot in Forest Grove. He was sworn in Sept. 14.

According to Forest Grove Police Capt. Mike Herb, the most common backgrounds among applicants are in private security, fitness training and the military, with the rest ranging from investment bankers, loggers and grocery clerks to construction workers and writers.

"Of course there are a good many who are fresh out of school and unemployed," Herb said.

Of the 175 who applied this past September, the automatic online scoring system immediately screened out seven for not having a driver’s license, not being 21 or older, not being a U.S. citizen or otherwise failing minimal requirements.

Of the remaining 168, many got extra points for having one or more college degrees, military or police experience, or Spanish fluency. The 67 highest scoring applicants moved to the next step:

The preliminary background check (67 applicants remain)

If you’ve threatened the U.S. President and are on a Secret Service watch list, you’re going to be disqualified from the applicant pool, as one FGPD hopeful discovered.

But the criminal convictions and poor driving records that typically disqualify applicants at this stage are usually less dramatic, according to Herb: Three traffic citations in the last year, a domestic assault misdemeanor and "any conviction dealing with ethics or honesty, like a theft."

But not all convictions disqualify, Herb said. It can depend on how old they are and how much the applicants have worked to rehabilitate themselves. If they were "Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants" 10 years ago, they still have a chance — if the DUII happened five years ago, they don't.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE - Newly minted Forest Grove Police Officer Andrew Colasurdo says the application process has no comparison to civilian jobs. Having to name all your old roommates or residences, its not something you can just come in here and wing.

The preliminary background check disqualified six of the September applicants. Of the remaining 61, nearly half took different jobs or otherwise decided not to proceed, leaving 33 to move to the next step:

The oral board interview (33 remain)

This 20-minute interview before four city representatives can be so intimidating — particularly for candidates who don't prepare — that some become extremely nervous and emotional, said Herb, one of the four interviewers.

One applicant actually started crying, he remembers. Another forgot what agency they were interviewing for. Another “ended his interview halfway through and left the room." Others finish early because they can’t answer all nine questions. Or they ramble on so long they never get past the first two or three.

Panel member Lisa Cannon, a Support Unit Supervisor with the FGPD, said some people are “entirely unprepared and just end up being trainwrecks."

The questions probe the applicant’s personal history, knowledge of Forest Grove, judgment, social skills, adaptability and responses to hypothetical police situations.

The last question asks for "the most negative piece of information an investigator may find in your background" — partly to test the applicant’s honesty and partly to save everyone’s time if the answer is a disqualifier.

Apart from their answers, applicants’ mere composure during the interview can indicate whether they’re a good fit for the job, Herb said: If a prospective officer can't handle a four-person, video-recorded interview, how can they handle sitting in a courtroom, under oath, testifying before a jury while being grilled by a defense attorney?

Of the 33 applicants interviewed, eight moved to the next step:

The Post Test (8 remain)

A week after the panel, the eight survivors gather to take a timed high school equivalency exam called the Post Test. They have an hour and a half to show their competency in reading, writing and math.

Police officers spend a significant amount of time reading complicated laws and writing detailed reports, Herb said. A misreading of the law regarding search warrants, for example, might lead to a judge denying the officer’s request for one. And a poorly written report that fails to clearly describe probable cause for an arrest could lead to dismissal of a case.

"Basic math skills are also used on the job daily,” he said, for everything from diagramming accident scenes to estimating the size of a bruise to aiming and firing a gun,which involves understanding a bullet’s directional shift over time and distance.

Seven of the eight candidates passed the exam and moved on to the next step:

The chief's interview (7 remain)

Forest Grove Police Chief Janie Schutz wants to know about the applicant's emotional capacity to handle and invest in the job. "You are going to sacrifice," she tells them during this one-on-one intervew. "You will miss a child's birthday or an anniversary dinner."

She asks them to talk about friends, church, sports activities, family or other personal connections. "I can teach them what they need to know, but I can't give them a heart for community service," Schutz said.

"And we're not a training-ground agency," she added, referring to officers who don't really want to work in a small town. Schutz once turned down an otherwise good candidate because she sensed he wanted to work in a larger department.

"I don't want to be a stepping stone," she said. "I want keepers."

All seven applicants proceeded to the next step:

Psychological evaluations/essay test (7 remain)

Applicants must take both the California Psychological Inventory and the State Trait Anger Expression Inventory. These two psychological questionnaires can help determine applicants' ability to handle everything from violent criminals to abused children to people with mental illness.

At the same time, Forest Grove adds an extra step not used by other local agencies: two essay questions on police-related issues, such as “What is your opinion on body cams?” or “How do you feel about mental health evaluations of police officers?”

Herb and Cannon evaluate the essays for content, grammar, punctuation and expression. "The ability to effectively communicate a thought, opinion or idea is key to police work," Herb said.

Also, the essays can indicate how applicants feel about certain topics. "Sometimes you can detect a bias," Herb said.

Three applicants failed to pass the psychological evaluation, leaving four to proceed to:

Physical fitness test (4 remain)

At Chemeketa Community College in Salem, the applicants take a timed physical fitness test that mimics potential police work: crossing a balance beam, jumping a 5-foot-wide mat, running up and down stairs, crawling beneath obstacles, vaulting a 3-foot railing, dragging a 165-pound dummy 25 feet, falling to their stomachs and backs. One applicant has yet to take this test. Three passed and were conditionally offered a job, depending on whether they passed the remaining steps:

Intensive background check and integrity interview (4 remain, including 1 pending)

The background check on applicants takes two to four weeks and is handled in-house by Det. Matt Smith, who struggles to balance it against his regular load of 10 to 15 criminal investigations.

Smith conducts the check with Forest Grove’s 20,000 residents on his mind: "When it's 3 a.m. and you've got officers in your home, it's the worst day of your life," he said. "I make sure the officer who you're dealing with is the best possible officer for the job."

He starts by reviewing a confidential Statement of Personal History written a week or two earlier by each candidate. Sometimes the Statement alone includes disqualifying information. Or if the statement doesn’t match up with what Smith learns through his investigation, that too will be grounds for disqualification.

Smith doesn’t expect candidates to be perfect. But he does expect them to be truthful.FGPD Det. Matt Smith once tracked down a background source using only a first name and a city as clues.

After reading the statement, Smith sits down with each candidate and asks them 153 questions, including:

- Have you ever called in sick when you really were not sick? How many times in the last year and what did you do instead?

- Do you consider an omission of information to be a lie? (For more sample questions, see the end of this article.)

Smith then tracks down and grills as many as 20 different sources about the applicant’s life, including former employers, co-workers, friends, neighbors (current and former), family members, exes and enemies.

"I love talking to neighbors," Smith said. "There's always one nosy neighbor who knows everything."

One applicant's ex-girlfriend told Smith (and produced evidence) that the applicant had been stalking and harassing her — also that he’d asked her not to reveal that to Smith.

His 40 to 50 questions probe topics such as how well the applicant keeps secrets, responds to stress, arrives to events on time, complains about their employer or has marital problems.

Ultimately, Smith said, "I'm looking for a hardworking, honest and humble individual who will do the right thing when no one's looking."

He estimates 60 to 70 percent of applicants fail the background check. He prides himself on those who pass. "I'm confident the officers on whom I've done backgrounds are extraordinary."

More than once — including earlier this year — the few candidates who made it this far failed this step, and the department had to start the whole process over.

This time, out of the three applicants who reached this stage, one failed the background check. Another is still waiting for results. A third passed and proceeded to the next step:

Full psychological evaluation and drug screening (3 remain, including 2 pending)

After three to four weeks of detective work, the approved applicants get a full psychological evaluation. This step is so confidential that not even Herb or Schutz is clear about why the psychologist disqualifies or approves an applicant.

The one applicant to reach this stage was approved and moved to the two final steps:

Drug test/physical exam (1 passed, 2 pending)

The drug test and physical exam are the last hurdles before the conditional job offer becomes official. Herb remembers one applicant who made it through all the previous intensive vetting only to have the physical reveal a previously unknown heart condition that disqualified him.

The one September applicant to make it through this far passed both these tests and now has a start date of Dec. 21. A swearing-in ceremony will soon be scheduled.

But that doesn't mean he’s ready to start the job. There's always a certain amount of in-house training required. And if applicants are new to police work, it will be at least another nine to 12 months before they can start patrolling Forest Grove as official police officers.

Next week: So You Want to Be a Police Officer? Part Two.

FGPD goes into non-stop hiring mode

In this city of 23,000, the Forest Grove Police Department keeps a minimum of three patrol officers on duty to meet the basic goals of officer safety and high-quality response to community calls.

The patrol staff of 21 positions (three sergeants and 18 officers) would be enough to meet that minimum 24 hours a day, seven days a week — except for the chronic vacancies. In addition to officers out on sick leave, vacation time or court appearances, the department has not had a full staff for years.

Often, the sergeant on shift doubles as the third officer. If an officer gets called away for hours while helping with a mental health hold — more than once a week on average — that leaves only two. And sometimes such holds require both patrol officers. When the three-person minimum shrinks, the department relies on mutual aid from Cornelius or calls in an officer for overtime duty. Sometimes the three-person shift already includes an officer working overtime.

At the standard time-and-a-half rate, overtime pay routinely exceeds the department’s overtime budget, which is $155,000 this year. An officer position (with pay and benefits) costs $125,000.

Instead of 18, there were only 14 patrol officers until November, when new hire Andrew Colasurdo began his first solo patrol. Two more recently sworn-in officers will bring the number up to 17, but only after a year or so of training and only if they make it through.

Meanwhile, current officers are talking about retiring.

This year alone, the department initiated five separate hiring processes, finally dropping the usual two-week application period and — for the first time — billing it as “open and continuous.”

Struggling to cope, sergeants have had to deny more requests for time off — something Chief Janie Schutz wants to avoid if at all possible.

FGPD takes great care to select officers who are even-tempered and willing to sacrifice, but Schutz still wants to minimize their stress and protect their quality of life — something she knows won't happen without a full roster.

Other questions (out of 150) for officer applicants:

- Is it ever acceptable for a police officer to lie to a citizen or a suspect?

- When was the last time you lost your temper and what were the circumstances?

- Have you ever used physical force on another person for any reason?

- What is your worst characteristic?

- How do you deal with anger?

- Tell me about a time you had to make a quick decision.

- If you could go back in time and change any one thing in your life, what would it be?

- Have you prepared yourself for taking someone’s life? How?

- How much do you drink and how often?

- Have you ever used marijuana?

- Have you ever made any obscene phone calls?

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