A group of new officers hired by the Forest Park Police Department bring the ranks up to full staff for the first time in years – at least on paper.

Chief Jim Ryan announced earlier this month that five men and women were officially added to the roll in 2008, and the additions should allow detectives more time to work difficult cases, such as burglaries, narcotic investigations and violent crimes. However, he cautioned that it’s difficult to maintain a complete roster. One officer is currently deployed with the U.S. military in Afghanistan, said Ryan, and he’s routinely filling shifts when others work in cooperation with various law enforcement agencies. Forest Park police joined a regional task force in 2007 that targets gang activity in seven suburban communities, for example.

At the very least, he said, the department should be able to reduce the amount of overtime paid in the coming year.

Residents shouldn’t necessarily expect to see a greater police presence in their neighborhoods as a result of having a full compliment of officers. According to Ryan, the additional staffing will allow members of the detective unit to spend more time following leads on their own cases. A typical patrol shift puts four units on the streets with a supervisor at the station. Ryan said he expects that formula to remain the same, though busier overnight shifts do get the benefit of an additional officer.

The new hires were culled from a list of 86 applicants, each of whom was interviewed by the Fire and Police Commission. Six years ago when Ryan took over the department, a rigid interview process consisting of seven questions in 20 minutes replaced what he described as a “country club interview.”

“It’s screened out a lot of people that didn’t have the attributes that we were looking for,” Ryan said.

The latest batch of recruits bring a resume that includes top academic honors in their police academy class, and fluency in Russian, Polish, Cantonese and Spanish. Ryan said he’s also pleased to see an ethnically diverse group. Two of the officers, Anna Lech and Jarlath Heveran, were born in Poland and Ireland, respectively. An African-American, Italian-American and Asian-American were also hired.

“We’ve always tried to have diversity in the organization,” Ryan said. “Diversity is good and it reflects the community.”

Since 2003, Ryan has hired 11 of the department’s officers.