On Dec. 18, Forest Park police hope to swear in three new officers. If they complete four months of medical, physical and mental testing, and up to another year of training at the Chicago Police Training Academy, then a total of four new officers will join the Forest Park force.
“I’d say it’s the most in several years at one time,” said Police Chief Thomas Aftanas.
Over the past 12 months, two officers retired — one for disciplinary reasons. Another position was left to fill from the year before, and a fourth officer went on disability, making 2017 the year of new hires for local police.
“There’s a lot of competition out there, there’s so many steps in this process, and anytime if something goes wrong, you can be eliminated,” Aftanas said of the new recruits.
There are at least 10 steps to becoming a permanent, full-time officer in Forest Park. Prospective officers start by filling an application out at the police department, attend a mandatory orientation session, and then take a written test administered by the firm Stanard and Associates.
Applicants are tested on their arithmetic, reading comprehension, grammar and incident report-writing skills. Stanard grades the tests, and ranks those who passed the test by their scores. The company adds extra points to officers who have military service or hold a bachelor’s degree. Many police departments don’t require any college credits for new recruits; Forest Park requires applicants to hold at least 60 hours.
Stanard then sends out its list of qualified applicants to all the departments in Illinois. Police must choose applicants for an in-person interview in the order they are ranked. Fire and police commissioners conduct interviews. Police who want to be promoted to sergeant or other position must also go through Stanard’s testing process.
“It prevents you from picking anybody you want,” Aftanas said. “I can’t go and pick who I want to be a sergeant, but in a private company the CEO can say, ‘Hey I want you to manage this team, be a supervisor here.'”
Stanard also administers a physical agility test, which tests applicants on things like how far they can drag a crash dummy, climb a fence, jump a ditch and more. If applicants make it to the next round, they’re scheduled for a psychological test, polygraph test and medical test, to make sure new recruits don’t have health issues that would prevent them from doing their job. Stanard administers the psychological test; a separate firm, Cops and Fire Testing, administers the lie detector test.
Because a lot of police departments in the area are hiring right now, “the polygraphs were initially all backed up; they had a lot of people scheduled and we had to wait,” Aftanas said.
More than 20 Illinois police departments are hiring officers right now, the most of any state, according to the public safety information site The Blue Line. That backed up Forest Park’s polygraph testing by about a month.
Those who pass the physical, mental and polygraph tests are then subject to a background check conducted by Forest Park detectives. If detectives no red flags are raised about applicants’ employment and criminal history, candidates finally get to attend training at a local academy, such as the Chicago Police Training Academy.
At the Chicago Academy, new recruits spend 1,000 hours — between one and two years — studying firearms and their use, scenario-based training, search-and-seizure laws and more. Aftanas has one cop scheduled to graduate the academy in late January; he hopes to have three new recruits enroll on Jan. 8.
Technically, recruits are hired by the municipality once they enter the police academy. Once they are academy certified, officers will come back to Forest Park and complete four months of field training, rotating different hours, days and shifts at the department. During the officers’ first 18 months in Forest Park, they are also on probation.
If all is going well, by the fourth month officers will report to their senior field training officer who makes a determination if they’re good enough to go on their own for a permanent shift. If not, new officers will continue to rotate shifts and partners for more seasoning.
“A lot of this is mandated in state law, how you administer the hiring process for police, and I think it kind of makes it a fair process for everyone. All these steps here, they don’t rely on the village or me as the police chief, or the mayor, to hire or fire anybody,” Aftanas said. “This agency that administers the test comes up with the list — we have nothing to do with it. It makes it an extremely fair process.”