OP to swear in 9 new cops as wave of retirements continues

? Village posts notice of new sergeant's exam for late May. Tanksley expresses confidence in future department leadership.

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Continuing a five year process of massive turnover, the Oak Park police department will swear in nine new police officer candidates Friday morning.

The new officers will be welcomed by a group of police brass that will include Police Chief Rick Tanksley, as well as members of the Fire and Police Commission that selected them.

The nine?#34;Manuel Ruiz, Raphael Murphy, Stephen Struska, Gretchen Kieckhefer, Jonathon Larson, Kristin Cook, Kenneth Tworek, and Thomas Jablonski?#34;will have the weekend to celebrate their appointments before they enter the Suburban Police Academy in Lombard Monday and begin 10 weeks of basic training.

The group, which ranges in age from 21 to 33, has two women and a Hispanic male in its ranks, but no African Americans. Though somewhat disappointed that no new African American officers would be joining the force in this group, Tanksley praised both the incoming recruits, as well as the previous group of 10 police candidates sworn in last July. that group is now half-way through its 18-month probationary period. 

"I wish it could have been a bit more diverse," Tanksley said of the recruits. "That's not to say that these nine candidates aren't sharp in every regard."

As for the July 2004 group, Tanksley said he couldn't be more pleased with their progress.

"They're doing outstanding," Tanksley said, adding that he's impressed not just with the group's educational level and solid knowledge of police work, but also with how they have conducted themselves ethically as police officers.

The relatively large rookie group being sworn in Friday will likely be the last group of such size to enter the Oak Park force for some time into the future. Since the fall of 2000, the force has seen the largest influx of new blood since it added several dozen officers in the mid 1970s. With many of those officers now retired or about to retire, the department has added 61 new officers since 2000 on a force of only 123 sworn personnel. But this dramatic turnover may now be finally slowing a bit.

"I think the next (candidate) group will be much smaller," Tanksley said Monday. "Perhaps three in June. And then one at a time after that."

In related staffing developments, the police department posted the announcement for the new Sergeant's exam last week. After waiting the required 60 day period, the village Human Resources Department will administer the test in late May. Tanksley expects to announce the promotion of at least two new Sergeants in early June, with another one or two patrol officers promoted over the summer based on likely retirements and promotions.

And at the top of the department, the search for two new deputy chiefs of police has been extended two weeks. The executive search firm of Ralph Anderson & Associates, which was retained in January to conduct a nationwide search for qualified candidates, will now have a final list available for consideration by mid April, according to Tanksley.

"The process is still ongoing. I hope to start interviewing around the third week of April," he said. Based on that schedule, the two new deputy chiefs can now be expected to be appointed in early May. Those openings also developed as a result of retirements.

CONTACT: bdwyer@wjinc.com

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