August 22, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 33

Chief of police job draws 4 applicants

Haines Borough Manager Mark Earnest is considering recasting the net after receiving only four applications for the chief of police position.

Earnest said he wasn’t necessarily disappointed by the quantity of applicants, but was “a bit surprised” that the position didn’t generate more interest. Earnest is considering extending the deadline for applications and will make a decision “very soon,” he said.

“It’s always nicer when you’re going through a hiring process to go through a larger pool of potential applicants,” Earnest said.

Clerk Julie Cozzi said she advertised the position on bulletin boards around town, the borough website, the Alaska Municipal League website, the Alaska Association of Chiefs of Police website and the Alaska Job Center Network website.

Applicants include interim police chief Simon Ford, Haines resident Rob Miller, Missouri resident David Riffer and Pennsylvania resident Jeffrey Thomas.

Thomas currently works as a police officer and firearms instructor for Saint Francis University and previously worked as an officer for the Gallitzin Borough Police Department. Riffer works as a detective for the North Missouri Drug Task Force and has also worked as police chief for the City of Lancaster and officer for the City of Unalaska.

Miller worked as a clinical lab assistant for the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) from 2006 to 2011, and worked as a dispatcher and officer for the Haines Police department from 2001 to 2006.

A fifth applicant, Richard Crays of Wyoming, applied after the deadline and will be considered only if the deadline is extended, Earnest said.

If extending the deadline and reposting the ads doesn’t yield more results, Earnest said he may ask the assembly to reconsider the option of hiring a headhunting firm. The assembly voted several months ago to keep the hiring process in-house.

The Petersburg Borough recently funneled nearly $30,000 into finding its new police chief. Between the $20,000 contract with Minnesota-based headhunting firm Brimeyer Fursman and $8,000 of travel costs for the final candidates and community reception events, borough manager Steve Giesbrecht said the final hire of chief Kelly Swihart was worth every penny.

“We took a little bit of flak for spending the money, but that being said nobody is complaining about who we chose,” Giesbrecht said.

Petersburg received about 50 applicants for the police chief job. “We started off with a really large number, and admittedly you get people who aren’t qualified that send resumes to everyone, so we paid the consultant to go through all that mess,” Giesbrecht said.

Petersburg flew the top three candidates and their spouses to town to talk with community members, each other and borough staff. The borough also organized several community events with the candidates, including dinners, receptions and a glacier tour.

Giesbrecht said the entire process from start to finish took 60 days.

The consultant or firm doesn’t make the choice for the municipality, Giesbrecht said, but helps facilitate decision-making and thought organization. For example, the consultant didn’t make a recommendation for the final hire, but helped the hiring committee list and weigh the pros and cons of each finalist.

“In my opinion what a consultant does for you is it helps you clarify your thoughts. What are you exactly looking for? And their job is to go find that for you,” he said.

Earnest said he is currently going through the four police chief applications, performing some cursory reference checks. “(It’s) not necessarily the full background at this point, but just to do some preliminary checks,” he said.

Chief applicant and interim chief Ford is sifting through nine applications for the police officer position recently vacated by officer Josh Knore.

Ford said he has chosen two Alaskans as top candidates but one might be edged out once he has a chance to interview Rob Miller, who applied for both the chief and officer positions. Miller is currently out of town.

Unfortunately, the pair of Alaskans aren’t certified officers and would need to attend the police academy in Sitka from February to June. They would then have to complete six to eight more weeks of training, meaning they wouldn’t be on the job until a year from now, Ford said.

Usually when written applications are received, the chief narrows the field and conducts several interviews before making a hire, Ford said. But with all of the turnover and indiscretions of former officers, Ford thought it was time for a change.

“It’s no secret we’ve had some substandard police officers using that technique,” he said.

After consulting with the Human Resources Department in Juneau, Ford discovered officer finalists there are given a written test, physical test, psychological evaluation, extensive background checks and sometimes even a polygraph test.

Ford said he will perform background checks and require the two finalists to complete written and physical tests and a psych evaluation.