Altoona hiring new police officer

In the past, the Altoona Police Department accepted officer candidates who were not yet certified to serve.

Not this year.

The department is advertising for applicants, but all must have an Act 120 officer training certification to enable them to serve on the street immediately, instead of attending a six-month academy.

It’s a matter of money and time for the financially troubled city, which last month approved an Act 47 distress recovery plan.

Police academies can cost as much as $16,000, including tuition, room and board, and the state no longer reimburses those costs, according to Police Chief Janice Freehling.

Moreover, during the six-month academy period, the department doesn’t have the “use of that person,” said Don Belsey, a member of the city’s Police Civil Service Board.

“We’re all on the same page about this,” Belsey said of the decision to limit consideration to certified applicants, noting it’s becoming more and more common among departments he’s had contact with recently.

It will definitely reduce the number of applicants, he said.

The last time the department gathered a crop of applicants, in early 2011, there were about 80, according to Freehling.

But lots of such candidates in recent years already have had certifications, including many who served as military police, often in Iraq or Afghanistan, Belsey said.

“We anticipate we’ll have qualified people,” Freehling said.

If there aren’t enough quality candidates, “we’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it,” Belsey said.

On Monday, the department was at its new budgeted complement of 66 officers, Freehling said.

But with a retirement today, it’s at 65, so there is one immediate opening, she said. She doesn’t know whether there will be more openings soon.

Interested candidates can pick up an application between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays in the Personnel Office at City Hall, 1301 12th St.

Candidates must pass a physical agility test Feb. 9 and a written civil service test Feb. 16.

They must be a U.S. citizen, at least 21 before being hired and have a high school equivalent diploma. They also must submit to a computerized voice stress analysis and agree to psychological and physical exams.

The board will interview those who pass the agility and civil service tests, where Belsey said they look for maturity, sincerity and honesty.

They then compile an eligibility list. The department does background checks on the board’s top three candidates, according to Freehling.

New hires go through a five-step, approximately 20-week program, Freehling said, where they initially ride with field training officers and then eventually ride and handle calls alone.

Under normal circumstances, full fledged officers ride in pairs only occasionally, Freehling said.

For last year, the city had 70 budgeted positions, three unfilled, according to a chart in the recovery plan.

There were 74 budgeted – and filled – officer positions between 2008 and 2010, thanks to a 2005 grant that added five officers for three years, then required an additional-two year commitment to keep them, according to Freehling.

FBI recommendations suggest that Altoona should have 74 officers, Belsey said. That helps ensure the department can be proactive, rather than reactive, he said.

If money were no concern, Freehling would like 100. There were 99 when she joined the force in 1976, she said.

“And there were a lot fewer calls,” she said.

“But 66 is better than 62,” Belsey said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.