Police Chief hiring process: consultant vs. citizens’ panel

nfldpolicebadgew100 Despite the fact that the City of Northfield’s $85,000 web site has a Chief’s Message indicating that Gary Smith is still our Chief of Police, he’s not anymore. The hiring process for a new chief began with the posting of the job opening on Feb. 7. (There’s another poster/flyer PDF here but there’s no information about a job opening or links to the info on the police department employment page.) The job closes on Feb. 20.

Local attorney (and former counsel for Smith) Dave Hvistendahl has a letter to the editor in yesterday’s paper titled: Use committee to hire.

Rather than hiring out-of-town consulting who knows little about our city, the council should appoint a citizens’ panel of knowledgeable people to review and narrow the field of applicants and make a rank-order recommendation to the council.

The people who should be asked to serve on the panel might include former chief of police Ron Pieri; retired police captain Tim Halvorson; retired police sergeants Mark Barlau, Jim Schuenke and Mick Scholl; Northfield city prosecutor Tim Morisette; Rice County Chief Deputy Bob Sletten; and a Northfield criminal defense attorney, such as Adam Dowd, Britt Ackerman or Dave Ludescher.

Evidently the usual process is to hire a consultant to winnow down the applicants to a select few for City Administrator Al Roder to interview. I’ve not seen anything about the hiring process in any of Al’s weekly memos, but I like Hvistendahl’s suggestion.  I’d add one additional component: have some members of the police department (officers, staff) involved in the interviews.


  1. David Henson said:

    I would think three panels: 1) one as Hvistendahl has suggested 2) one of just plain citizen folks 3) one of convicted criminals (seriously – they may provide great insight).

    All three could report to the council.

    February 10, 2008
  2. David Henson said:

    Youth, OK some youth, are heavily impacted by the police and a “buy in” by youth through participating in selecting the Police Chief might improve the selection process and improve the new chief’s standing among Northfield youth. I would also think the process should involve women and Hispanic representation.

    February 12, 2008
  3. John George said:

    Good grief, David! Sounds like you are proposing a hiring committee. Remeber the duckbill platypus? It is the animal purported to have been designed by a committee. I don’t think there is probably any person alive who could satisfy all these different people. Seems the city should have a list of professional requirements for the position (I’m sure they do), and the candidate should be aligned with these criterion rather than the opinions of a group of diverse citizens. But, now, in my opinion….

    February 12, 2008
  4. Anne Bretts said:

    In many communities, there is a small hiring committee, but there are meetings with the public where the candidates are introduced and where people can ask questions. It’s not as formal and cumbersome as several broad committees, but it should satisfy the important need to have everyone who it interested participate in the process.

    February 12, 2008
  5. Curt Benson said:

    As Hvistendahl said in his letter to the News, Faribault didn’t use an outside consultant to hire a new chief. However, they did hire an outside consultant to review the performance of the department as a whole.

    I wonder if Northfield should do the same. Is anyone satisfied with the performance of the NFPD? Have their actions in regards to the heroin/oxycontin epidemic (as described by the former chief) or the quadrupling of the the burglary rates been effective?

    All I’ve seen is empty posturing—warning drug dealers to stay away from Northfielders on televised press conferences; random traffic stops, hoping to to stumble across some drug violations, and searching an unoccupied school after hours with dogs which revealed (surprise!)– drugs are not kept in the school overnight.

    Should we expect more from the NFPD?

    February 12, 2008
  6. David Henson said:

    I don’t know Dave Hvistendahl personally but he is a good and humorous writer on this blog. My main point being his suggestion is an “up stream” (read professional) committee when my estimate would be “down stream” input would likely lead to a better candidate (I have heard positive input from young people about one of the internal candidates). Anne’s idea of public interviews seems like a solution.

    Let’s not presume to know that the duckbill platypus was not designed in a backroom over bourbon and cigars.

    February 12, 2008
  7. Griff Wigley said:

    Curt, I think there was a consultant hired last spring to assess the police department, though it may have focused on morale problems, not overall performance. I don’t know if the results of that study were ever made public but I don’t think so. And it probably fell off everyone’s radar once the heroin story hit.

    But I think it would be interesting for those conducting interviews for the Chief’s position to have access to what the consultant found. And it might even be more interesting for those who are seeking the job.

    Anyone want to dig for the info?

    February 12, 2008
  8. John George said:

    David- Perhaps too many bourbons?

    Anne- I like your idea of public oportunity to meet the finalists in the hiring process. If nothing else, it would start some comunity communication, and that is definitely a positive step.

    February 12, 2008
  9. Griff Wigley said:

    In the Sat. Nfld News: 29 apply for police chief position; Four panels will interview up to 8 semi-finalists.

    Those eight will be invited to tour Northfield on March 27 and be the guests of honor at a reception that evening. The event will be open to the public. The following day, Roder said, four panels will interview each candidate. The panels, with anywhere from six to 12 members, will be made up of city staff/department heads, law enforcement officers, community members and the Mayor’s Youth Council.

    March 3, 2008
  10. kiffi summa said:

    There’s one thing that concerns me about the hiring ad…… It states an education requirement, years in the field, and then has a very vague/expansive statement about any “equivalent”. That’s sometimes a good thing, but it can also be used to hire just about anybody you might want, or at least to find anyone you prefer, to be an acceptable candidate.
    When i first moved here there were a couple of citizen commissions that had to do with police work; I think one was the Civil Service Commission, and I’m not sure what the other was called. I was wondering what anyone who had served on those groups knew about their work, what the qualifications for the Police Chief job have been, have those changed, etc. Just some general background info.

    Is there a place to look for the qualification standards for any city of Northfield department head? If these standards change, who does that? The city Administrator? The City Council?

    March 4, 2008
  11. Harry Brull said:

    Dear Locally Grown folks,
    Your blog was forwarded to me and I read it with great interest. I have been working with the City of Northfield to help select the best-qualified chief of police. My organization, Personnel Decisions International (PDI), is a twin-cities based consulting firm that assesses and develops leadership talent for private and public organizations aound the world. We have 13 US offices and operations in 22 countries and have measured the capabilities of more that 2.5 million individuals in leadership roles.
    I have been helping cities, counties, state and federal agencies in this regard for 30+ years. For those of you with long memories, my first project at PDI was hiring Tony Bouza as Mpls. Chief.
    The Northfield process is combining community input with professional evaluation of candidate’s capabilities.
    This is a powerful, well-balanced approach to ensure that Northfield’s next law enforcement chief executive will be an effective leader and service provider.
    I also have been teaching industrial/organizational psychology at St. Olaf for the last fifteen years. Two of my children live in Northfield.

    March 27, 2008
  12. Curt Benson said:

    Mr. Brull, was your firm involved with hiring the former chief?

    Also, do you do more than check resumes with their cherry picked references?
    Do you check with the candidates subordinates to see if they have real world ability to motivate people?

    March 27, 2008

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