Fire/Police commission selects vendors for cop testing

? Hopes to have nine officer candidates selected in time for April 11 police academy.

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With a raft of vacancies looming on the Oak Park police department, the Oak Park Board of Fire and Police Commissioners selected two vendors last Thursday to conduct written and psychological testing for its entry level police officer process. The decision is a necessary step in the process of recruiting and selecting at least nine officer candidates who are scheduled to attend the police academy starting April 11. Any vendors must be approved by the village board, which usually meets on Mondays. Due to the Monday Martin Luther King holiday, however, the village board didn't meet until Tuesday after press time, and Human Resource Director Frank Spataro declined to disclose the names of the firms prior to final approval by trustees.

The tasks at hand for Commissioners Ida Rolden and Jay Fahn, Spataro and Police Chief Rick Tanksley include not only selecting qualified vendors who can deliver professional testing services in a timely fashion, but also staying on a tight budget and a tighter schedule. 

"We're going to be real close on budget," said Spataro. While acknowledging the tight schedule, Spataro downplayed any pressure after the meeting.

"It's always a tight schedule," he said. "(But) it's a target (date) and we're going to make it."

Late last year Tanksley told commissioners he wanted to have nine candidates to send to the next training academy. Additional candidates will need to have been tested and screened by next fall, when Tanksley expects there to be more vacancies on the force due to another round of retirements in July.

Spataro noted that around 30 percent of those taking the battery of tests pass them and are included on police officer candidate lists. They must then pass psychological and oral examinations, undergo physical and power tests, and extensive background checks.

The group agreed that splitting the administration of written and psychological tests between two vendors would solve several problems. Spataro said that with that in mind, the RFPs?#34; requests for proposals?#34; had been written to allow different vendors to perform different tasks.

"(Using) two contractors would leave us better situated as far as meeting a deadline," he said.

There was also concern expressed over possible conflict from unconscious bias in firms that administered both the written and psychological test. Using more than one testing firm would avoid what Rolden termed a "built in bias toward initial (written) findings." Spataro agreed, saying, "Once they've come to a determination on the personality (test), they'd be hard pressed to say that they'd missed something after they (then) did the psychological testing."

Rolden and Fahn agreed with a recommendation by Spataro that the village's human resources department handle the development of questions for the oral exam. "With the experience we've had working on (candidate) interviews, I feel confident we can come up with the number of questions we need," said Spataro. "No one knows the Oak Park police department better than the chief and his command staff. We can work collaboratively and put together some questions."

Another concern expressed by both Spataro and the commissioners regarded the size of the "bands" of candidates. Bands are groupings of individual test scores that are so close together that no statistically significant distinction can be made. Under their operating rules, the village must treat everyone in any given band as equal, and must move them through the testing process enmasse - even if, as happened last time, there are some 70 individuals in one band.

"(That) places an administrative burden on us," said Spataro.

While acknowledging that it's difficult to predict how any given group of written test takers will score across a passing range of 70 to 100, Spataro said he was hoping to see a greater range, and smaller bands, on the next test.

"I'm looking for a written test that has some dispersion," he said. Rolden concurred, calling the dispersion concern "a big issue," and said that, despite the large number of individuals in the top band, that she was able to discern clear distinctions between them in later interviews.

Spataro also said he believed the selection of the two vendors would avoid a problem he had seen with a previous testing firm, which he felt wasn't clear and concise enough regarding their assessments of candidates' chances of ultimate success.

"I didn't feel we got good guidance on who would work out and who not," Spataro said.

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