A new initiative to recruit minorities for the O’Fallon Police Department will start in January.
O’Fallon Police Chief Eric Van Hook said previous efforts weren’t yielding results, so the department looked at new approaches to reach people about careers in law enforcement.
“We’ve really been trying to see how we can better represent the makeup of the community,” he said. “It became painfully obvious to us that we were not successful in getting people interested in taking the test to become a police officer, so we needed to take a more in-depth look. We want to increase the percentages of minorities.”
The department is budgeted for 45 on the force, but currently has 44 because of an officer’s retirement. At this time, there are no black officers on the force. There are three women and one Hispanic officer on staff.
“We want to reach out and explain a little better that law enforcement is still a very noble profession and something to be proud of,” Van Hook said. “We’re very proud of our department and the men and women who serve.”
They talked to ministries and other professional groups in town. They consulted with The Fource Group on new strategies.
“We have to find out why we aren’t attracting minority candidates, and we must be willing to accept the answers and use this information,” he said. “We need to listen to bring people to us.”
Given the perceptions during the past two years of civil unrest, following the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, those issues must be addressed.
“We want to get out there and talk to people one-on-one, and tell them we have a great police department,” he said. “The news has affected people. The perception is that there is a more lawless society compared to years prior.”
They plan to go to schools and pursue untapped resources, like Scott Air Force Base. People getting out of the service might be interested in staying in the area.
“We want to interest people in law enforcement as a profession. We want them to understand it is a great job,” Van Hook said.
Community outreach has been important for public safety, too. The police, fire and EMS all have Explorer posts. “We take a positive approach and reach kids,” he said.
Candidates must take a test that is administered once a year by a consortium of local police departments. O’Fallon is in that group, along with Fairview Heights, Collinsville, Highland, Edwardsville, Waterloo, Granite City, Alton and Troy.
The scores are good for two years.
That way one applicant’s score is good for all the departments, and they don’t have to take an independent test in each community.
There is also a physical agility test, with either a pass or fail score. In addition, a medical condition report, background check and interview are all part of the process.
Successful candidates then attend the Police Academy at Southwestern Illinois College.
“We don’t want to lower standards. We want to look at options prior to testing — talk to applicants about test anxiety and provide opportunities to help, do a better job at preparing all the candidates,” he said.
The O’Fallon department has a residency requirement. Police officers must be Illinois residents and live within a 20-mile radius of the station.
Van Hook, who has been in police work 27 years, has been the police chief in O’Fallon for three years, and has served the community for many years. From 1990 to 2012, he was a patrolman, detective, lieutenant and captain. He left to serve as Collinsville police chief for a year, then was hired for the top spot in O’Fallon.
A Collinsville native, Van Hook has taught criminal justice at SWIC and served on the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis.
“We have good officers who do everything they can to do a good job and are still proud to pin on the badge. They do everything they can to protect the community,” Van Hook said.