Oak Park police and village human resource staff were pleasantly surprised by a strong turnout Saturday morning for the latest police orientation and application session.
Village Human Resources Director Frank Spataro said Monday that 390 of more than 430 individuals stayed on in the Oak Park River Forest High School cafeteria after an hour-long orientation session to take a written test. The two-hour test is the first step in becoming an Oak Park police officer.
Men and women, white, black and Hispanic, the crowd of would-be officers, many in jeans, a few in suits, took nearly 10 minutes to file into the spacious cafeteria. When all were finally seated, they took up nearly every chair in the room.
Among those addressing the group were Spataro, Fire and Police Commission members Jay Fahn and Donna Cervini, as well as Brian Kitzman of Standard & Associates, the firm supervising the written test.
But it was Police Chief Rick Tanksley who commanded the most focused attention, as befitting a crowd that aspires to a job in which rank will be a central element of their job experience.
Tanksley expressed satisfaction at the overall makeup of the crowd.
"I'm happy so many different people turned out," he told them. "You are reflective of the people we have now."
Tanksley took pains to help settle the nerves he felt certain were on edge among his audience. Noting that there were a thousand other applicants present when he attended his own orientation over 21 years ago in the high school's auditorium, Tanksley counseled his audience to not worry about how many other people were competing for the nine positions open in April in the police academy.
"You don't have to worry about how many people Oak Park is hiring in April," said Tanksley. "All you have to say is, 'Oak Pak is going to hire me.'"
"You're only looking for one spot."
Tanksley went on to give an overview of the Oak Park department. He ended by telling those in the audience that the most important trait they could bring to police work was a willingness to serve others.
"Good luck, and God bless every one of you," he said in conclusion.
Following the orientation, those remaining took a four-part test that assessed arithmetic, reading, grammar and report writing skills. Those test results are expected to be available by Thursday. All applicants who scored above the 75 percent cutoff will be grouped in "bands," and physical testing and background checks will then be scheduled for the first band.
The Oak Park police will swear in nine new recruits in early April and send them to the police academy for 10 weeks of basic training starting April 10.
The department will continue to select new recruits from the list currently being developed over the next two years.