The Forest Park Police Department is on track to reach full strength for the first time since 2015.

Following the creation of a new eligibility list, the village council Monday authorized Police Chief Tom Aftanas to hire three police officers.

“We’re hoping to get to full strength,” Aftanas said. “That would be nice.”

When Laura O’Donnell, the last candidate on the previous eligibility list, was sworn in as a probationary officer in August, Forest Park had to create a new eligibility list. 

Aftanas explained that the process began that month when 43 candidates took the written exam. Members of the Police and Fire Commission then interviewed the 20 candidates with the highest scores. The top three candidates are currently taking the psychological examination with a polygraph examination and background check to follow.

The chief said he’s hoping those three will meet all requirements and be sworn in as probationary officers before the end of the year. One of the three would be able to join the force sooner than the other two since he is an officer with another department and has already graduated from the police academy. The other two would start the next session of the Chicago Police Academy that begins in January. If one or more fails to meet the requirements, the next candidate at the top of the list would start the testing process. 

The department is three short of full strength, which is 38 sworn officers, after two officers retired and a third went on disability.

Aftanas has said previously that the level of law enforcement service has not suffered as a result of the understaffing. At least five officers continue to patrol at all times. Overtime hours and shifting staff from dedicated task forces, such as plain-clothes drug enforcement, are used to fill the shortage. 

The chief said although Forest Park is competing for qualified candidates with other departments, noting that the Chicago Police Department and Illinois State Police were in a hiring phase earlier this year, having immediate openings should help secure top candidates. 

Candidates usually take the written examination with multiple departments and the better candidates are often at the top of several lists, Aftanas explained. Because state law requires departments to maintain an eligibility list even when no job openings exist, candidates at the top of an individual department’s list might not still be in the market when a position opens up.

“If you don’t have an immediate opening, you will have trouble,” Aftanas said.

Forest Park’s test in August attracted fewer applicants, with only 53 signing up compared to over 90 for the previous test. 

Aftanas speculated at that time that the drop in interest was partly due to competition with other departments but allowed that changing national perceptions of police and law enforcement could explain the drop too. 

In Forest Park, candidates with college degrees, prior law enforcement or military experience score additional points. Preference cannot be given to individuals from any particular racial, ethnic, religious, gender or sexual orientation group.

Although the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, a state agency established in the 1960s, mandates a minimum level of requirements — such as no felony convictions for sworn police officers — individual communities can establish their own additional qualifications, too. Forest Park, for instance, requires 60 credit hours from an accredited college or university and the successful completion of a background check.

O’Donnell is expected to graduate from the academy in January and join the department afterward for field training.