Three men took the next step toward becoming Ottumwa police officers Monday morning as they were sworn in and received their badges.
Devin Yeager, 22, of Ottumwa, Rob Schutte, 23, originally of Kahoka, Mo., and Nathan Wolff, 23, originally of Peotone, Ill., will continue to the next part of their probationary period at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) on Monday.
All three said becoming a police officer has always been their goal.
“Ever since I was little, it’s all I really wanted to do, and I’m the first in my family [to go into law enforcement],” Schutte said.
This past October, 37 applicants showed up at the law center for the Police Officer Selection Test (POST), of which 29 made it through. Those 29 went on to physical agility, of which 17 passed, and three had previously been certified. The final step for those 20 was the oral interview, of which 15 made it through.
This list was then certified by the Civil Service Commission, and the OPD took it to the Ottumwa City Council in November for a request to hire new officers.
From there, a conditional offer of employment was given to Yeager, Schutte and Wolff, who then traveled to the ILEA in Des Moines for a physical, psychological evaluation and polygraph test before they were officially offered the job.
Monday morning, Yeager, Schutte and Wolff signed their four-year contracts with the OPD.
“The hiring process in itself is extremely competitive,” Schutte said. “I want to get out and work in the field. I want to help the community.”
Wolff said Ottumwa is the eighth department to which he’s applied. Schutte said his experience was similar, applying alongside 400 others in Cedar Rapids and 300 others in Iowa City.
Once the three new officers complete their 14 weeks of training in Des Moines, they will start the 15-week Police Officer Training (PTO) program with an Ottumwa officer. By this time next year, their probationary period will be over and they will take their first steps on Ottumwa’s streets as full-fledged police officers.
“It won’t feel real until you do your first traffic stop,” said Lt. Mickey Hucks, pointing out the window of the law center at the intersection where he did his first stop.
There’s a lot of money and time invested in these men, said Lt. Tom McAndrew, so it’s important that the OPD choose those they believe have what it takes.
“A lot of people think we hire people in town who want to be a cop, but it’s just not like that,” McAndrew said.
The cost alone to go to the academy is $6,645, which covers tuition, books, meals and lodging. But the equipment on top of that — uniforms, vests, duty weapons and radios — tacks on more than $5,000, bringing the total cost for each person to complete the academy to around $12,000, which comes out of the OPD’s budget.
Hucks said the hardest part of the academy is passing all of the tests, because if you don’t pass a certain number or if you drop hours, you’re kicked out of the program.
“The tests get pretty nervewracking,” Hucks said. “It’s like going back to college.”
The physical aspects — physical agility, taser training and pepper spray training — is not a big deal, Hucks said.
“But you’re in for the fun stuff,” Hucks joked with the new officers. “They’ll make sure you get sprayed. Then you have to go downrange from the target, open your eye with your finger, shoot, holster your weapon and make it back to the car. That’s when you get your bucket [of water].”
The new officers will also learn from a new firearms instructor, one of Ottumwa’s former officers, Dan Lentsch.
Hucks said he and Sgt. Jason Bell started at the same time in July 1996, and just a week before they started, the department had dealt with an officer-involved shooting.
“So tensions were high and people were wired tight,” Hucks said.
McAndrew said one of the first calls he got was a drowning in the Des Moines River by the Hydro dam.
“I was with [former Sgt.] Steve Allen and he said, ‘Can you swim?’ Well, yeah,” McAndrew said. “By the time we get down there I’m stripping down, and right before I dive in I see the guy leaning out from his boat and he stands up. He was just hand-fishing.”
Monday’s three new hires put the OPD back at a full staff of 41 officers, Hucks said. In 2012, the department was short three officers, which presents problems when it comes to overtime and patrolling.
“We were trying to fill the gaps, and it was usually on patrol,” Hucks said. “And if we’re short officers due to vacation or sick days, it affect us even more. It compounds the problem. And overtime hours affects the budget. It’s a challenge.”
Yeager, Schutte and Wolff are set to graduate from the 249th ILEA basic on April 19.
What it takes to be a police officer
Go online to www.ottumwa.com to read the first story about what it takes to become a police officer, titled, “Applicants test for police department positions.”