A proposal to restrict the hiring of supervisory positions in the Jefferson City Police Department to existing staff was tabled Wednesday when members of the City Council's administration committee questioned whether it would follow best practices.
The Police Personnel Board had recommended closing the hiring process for upper-level officers to current employees. Currently, it is open for applicants outside the department.
In a recent sergeant promotion, a couple of applicants from outside the police department didn't continue with the hiring process after initially applying, Lt. David Williams said.
"Neither one of those two individuals actually showed up and became part of the process. But since it was open the way it is, they were able to put in applications," he said. "We did incur some costs.
"With the application, we had to order extra tests (and) extra study guides," he said. "There was a little bit of cost to us just basically on the fact that there were outside people that weren't participating in the process."
The process to fill the positions includes testing, and interviews with the Police Personnel Board and a panel of officers from other departments. Williams said the goal of restricting the hiring to existing staff would be to increase morale among the force.
"We're trying to keep morale up," he said. "We want to keep good people. We don't want to be a work in progress for other agencies. So, when we want to promote, we want that to be our internal candidates. We want to bring them up to become the next level of supervisors."
Another advantage to promoting internally, Williams said, is that the current officers are familiar with the area, Jefferson City's layout and people.
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Erin Wiseman, Ward 3 councilwoman and Committee on Administration chairwoman, questioned the need for the change if positions are usually filled from within anyway because the candidates are more qualified.
Williams said: "I think it would put the city in a position of having to explain why we didn't hire this outside person if they're possibly a qualified candidate. I think, if we have 10 quality people and we hire someone (outside the department), you will see most of those people that were in that process start looking for other jobs because we wouldn't show that our desire would be to keep them here."
Wiseman said she agrees with promoting from within, but questioned why the city would want to exclude outside qualified candidates from applying.
"I don't think that we're trying to exclude anyone," Williams said. "I think what we're trying to do is we're trying to give the first opportunity to those people who have shown that they want to be a part of the department."
Wiseman and Councilman Ron Fitzwater, Ward 4, asked whether other police departments in the state have open or closed hiring for supervisory positions.
"We are asked to help other agencies — such as Springfield, Columbia, O'Fallon — with their promotional process," Police Chief Roger Schroeder said. "I am not aware of any agency, and those are examples, which open up the process to people outside the agency."
Councilwoman Laura Ward, Ward 2, asked for examples of why the current process isn't working.
"Practically speaking, no one over the years with this policy from an outside agency has participated," Schroeder said. "We've had some candidates, some applicants each time, but they never participate. It costs us money. Time is money, tests are money."
Fitzwater said he supports the change, and it makes sense.
"It seems to me that it sends a very positive message to our police department of people that want to succeed and want to grow to make this change," he said. "Especially if, for the most part, we're operating that way."
Councilman Jon Hensley, Ward 5, asked for specifics of how the Police Personnel Board would decide if there aren't enough qualified candidates within the department and as a result open the applications to outside applicants.
Schroeder said the board works with the police department and operates with information from him, as well as other supervisors, when making decisions.
"In a sense, you're depending on the objectivity of the command staff to say, 'Well, at this point, we foresee a difficulty in promoting,'" Schroeder said. "We require a degree to be a command officer. I perceive that there's a possibility in the future we simply wouldn't have somebody that meets that prerequisite. It does require kind of a subjective assessment."
Wiseman said she's hesitant about the change because of a lack in statistics on what other departments in the state do and how subjective it sounds like the process would be.
"Just because you don't know if it doesn't mean that it's not happening," she said. "I'm just not comfortable with the feelings here and I'm not comfortable with the lack of information and statistics from other cities. I think there's going to have to be a lot more information before I'm comfortable."
Councilman Hank Vogt, Ward 1, said he doesn't see a problem with giving priority to current employees who apply for the position.
"I did (human resources) for 15 years, and I just don't understand why we wouldn't open the hiring process out to everyone," he said. "If there are no employees that meet the criteria or don't quite meet it, then they have the option of considering other applicants. I just don't see the problem with opening it up to everyone, internal and external."
Schroeder said he doesn't want to send the message to the police officers that there isn't confidence in the organization and the people there.
"I think one way to combat that is to make sure that employees know that they will be given priority for promotions," Vogt said. "And if they don't qualify, then they can know why and grow from that, and move on. I just feel like you might be missing some qualified candidates if you don't open it up to everyone."
Schroeder said he isn't sure how to work that into the rubric for filling those positions — which looks at qualifications such as tenure and education — or how much it should be weighted.
"We can do it. I'm a little uncomfortable with it," Schroeder said. "We can just keep on keeping on the way we have. I think we're saying it slows the process down, it's inefficient and costs money, it sends a message to our people, it's unnecessary based on our history. Will it greatly impact the future if we just leave it the way it is? Maybe not."