The Ottumwa Courier

October 6, 2012

Applicants test for police department positions

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — The process of becoming a police officer is a long one, and applicants need to prepare for what’s in store, says Lt. Mickey Hucks.

There are two vacancies at the Ottumwa Police Department that need to be filled to put the OPD back at full staff, and 37 began the testing process at the law center Friday morning.

Hucks said the deadline for applications was Sept. 10, and the department has reviewed 57 applications since then, looking for the minimum requirements to begin the testing process.

Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or GED and have acceptable hearing and color vision. Applicants with vision worse than 2100 in each eye without corrective measures are ineligible.

“Vision is one that unfortunately gets people,” Hucks said.

Applicants also cannot have criminal histories, including felonies, assaults, alcohol or drug abuse, suspended licenses, high-risk insurance or underage drinking charges.

“Each department is different on their restrictions, especially larger versus smaller departments,” Hucks said.

Letters are then sent out to those eligible to come to testing, and out of the 51 Hucks expected to show up Friday morning, 37 came to the law center.

Applicants then take the Police Officer Selection Test (POST) test, a nationally used, standardized test from Stanard and Associates, Inc.

“Everyone takes the POST test, regardless if they’ve passed it elsewhere,” Hucks said. “We want a clear picture of where they are today.”

The test includes math, reading comprehension, grammar and incident report writing.

“It has nothing to do with law enforcement,” Hucks said. “You don’t have to know about law enforcement to take the test.”

Some people do get test anxiety, though, Hucks said, which is why applicants can take it up to six times in a year. Applicants must score at least 70 percent to move on.

“I had one guy one year that had nearly all the answers correct, but he marked them in the booklet, instead of filling in the bubbles,” said Chief Jim Clark. “So he got zeros on all of those sections. If you can’t follow directions, then how are you going to do at the academy? And how are you going to do when you’re on the street alone and you have to make a decision?”

Friday morning, eight of the 37 applicants failed the test and were not allowed to move on to the physical agility portion.

“They know the standards ahead of time,” Hucks said of the physical agility test. “They’re the same requirements to get into the [Des Moines Police Department] Academy.”

The physical agility test includes sit and reach, sit-ups in one minute, push-ups in one minute and a timed 1.5-mile run. Requirements for each are based on gender and age.

“Unfortunately, we still have people who don’t prepare,” Hucks said. “The 1.5-mile run seems to get people. They’re unprepared for it.”

Andre Ruby, a paramedic in Jefferson County, was not one of those people.

“The physical part would probably be my decline,” Ruby said. “But I’ve put three months of preparation into it.”

He said he thought the POST test was easy and expects the interview to go well, so long as he passes the physical portion.

And sometimes when bad weather hits during testing, applicants have to run at the Hellyer Center at Indian Hills, compared to most who run at Schafer Stadium.

“That can trip people up because it’s a different length track,” Hucks said.

It takes approximately 17 laps to complete 1.5 miles at Hellyer, while it takes six laps at Schaefer.

Jason Fuller, who currently works in intake at the Wapello County Jail, said he applied because a police officer does something different every day.

“There’s some excitement, some paperwork,” Fuller said. “I’m looking for something different. Not everyone you run into is a criminal.”

For those who pass the physical test — and usually around 15 pass, Hucks said — they change out of their sweats and put on professional attire for their oral interviews, which start mid-afternoon and continue until every candidate has been interviewed.

A panel of a commander, sergeant, lieutenant and the chief question applicants.

“It’s your interview, so it’s the time you’ve got to get out there and present yourself,” Hucks said. “We can tell quickly who prepares and who doesn’t prepare.”

It’s surprising that some don’t prepare for the oral interview, Hucks said, considering how many hoops people have to jump through to become a police officer.

For those who make it through the interview, the list is then certified by the Civil Service Commission later this month, and the OPD then takes it to the city council for a request to hire two new officers.

Then the actual hiring process begins, Hucks said. Applicants are given a conditional offer of employment, and they must go to the police academy at Fort Dodge in Des Moines.

That morning, candidates receive a full, head-to-toe physical. In the afternoon, they take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) test, and in the evening they complete a polygraph test.

A few days later, a report is sent out with the candidate’s personality type.

“We’re looking for As and Bs ... mostly As,” Hucks said.

Finally, candidates are offered the job and must sign a four-year contract with the department. This is due to the high cost of the academy, which can be as much as $10,000 per person.

“It’s an investment in these people once they get to that level,” Hucks said. “We’re not going to let someone get into law enforcement that shouldn’t be there.”