The Oak Park Police Department has broadened its efforts to attract new recruits, sending officers to college campuses and job fairs to scope out promising talent and interested young adults.
“Our first recruitment was down at University of Illinois Chicago in September of 2018,” said Sergeant Samantha Deuchler, who heads up recruiting efforts. “Before that, I believe like most departments, we posted the hiring on theblueline.com, which is a one-stop shop for open positions pertaining to police, fire, paramedics, and dispatchers.”
In anticipation of this year’s police exam, held in November, the police recruiting team has hit five different college campuses throughout Illinois and Indiana and attended a career fair at Chicago’s Congress Hotel.
“We definitely wanted to hit more schools but unfortunately a lot of the fairs were on the same dates,” Deuchler said.
Deuchler chose a diverse group of officers with varying job responsibilities to take part in the recruitment events, including Officer Ian Miller, an evidence technician and field training officer. Miller works on the special task force that investigates major traffic accidents. He is also a member of the Honor Guard, the department’s ceremonial group. Deuchler also brings detectives and officers with less than two years under their belt so “they can really give the applicant a fresh perspective.”
Changes in police recruiting reflects changes in the world, Deuchler believes. “I think the recruiting process has changed because we are now recruiting a different generation of young police officers,” she said. “As the world is more technologically advanced, we need to have officers who are as well.”
When Deuchler joined the force 14 years ago, officers were still handwriting reports and doing duplicate data entry in different systems then. In 2006, she took her police exam in the cafeteria of Oak Park and River Forest High School with about a thousand other hopeful applicants. Today, the number of people sitting for the exam is much smaller. “Most departments around our size are seeing about 100-200 applicants,” she said.
Undeterred by the diminishing number of applicants, Oak Park police remain committed to hiring the best. “We will never settle or sacrifice to just have another police officer hired,” Deuchler said.
Police recruiting efforts have been “very fruitful,” Deuchler said. “We have been able to meet all kinds of people from different parts of the state of Illinois and even the Midwest.” She remembers meeting a student thanking the Oak Park recruiting team for taking the time to really answer all of her questions. “She felt she really got a sense of our department and what we do on a daily basis,” Deuchler said.
Attending events has also been a good experience for the officers involved. “Recruiting has been a lot of fun for the officers and myself,” she said. “It’s been a great reminder of how excited I was when I was brand new and ready to just learn as much as I could and serve the community to the best of my ability.”