Police Board debates hiring philosophy

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The advantages of promoting from within were compared to those of hiring an experienced criminal investigator for the Lewisburg Police Department's Detective Division were debated by the city's Police Advisory Board last week.

City Manager Eddie Fuller raised the subject for discussion on Thursday during the Advisory Board's monthly meeting after a series of reports from Police Chief Chuck Forbis who that evening was complimented for delivering on programs the Board sought last year.

"I'm just seeking input," Fuller said after pointing out the Detective Division here "is low on" experience and the immediate past detective sergeant became the leader of the division "by default" when his predecessor said he'd prefer to return to street patrol duties in uniform.

"The chief was hired from outside," Fuller said of Forbis who's been in his new job for nearly 16 months.

Forbis is a former major at the Sarasota, Fla., Sheriff's Department, where he worked for years in leadership positions for various divisions, most recently as commander of the Law Enforcement Division.

"I had the same problem," Board member Wayne Coomes said of when he was the police chief here. "Jimmy Woodson went to the Drug Enforcement Agency."

Coomes asked Forbis if he saw someone in the ranks of the department's 32 staff positions and, while the chief didn't say yes, his answer implied that he might and included an endorsement of a practice that's contrary to his own experience here.

"I'm a firm believer in promoting from within," Forbis said. "Patrol officers have to have some hope of being able to move into specialty jobs..."

However, a strict policy of promoting from within can also "make it hard to hire people because they see that," Forbis said.

Promoting from the ranks of staff already working in a department also has advantages, the chief said: "At least you have a somewhat known quantity."

That prompted a question from Board Chairwoman Lina Horner: "How would they (the officers) feel about an unknown quantity?"

Horner described her line of inquiry as that of "devil's advocate" so the panel could discuss issues that they might discount, but want explored.

"He might be a Metro (Nashville) officer.

"What would be the reaction," she asked, "of bringing in someone who would be over them?"

She said she didn't think they'd quit, or "slack off," but sought more discussion which might continue when the Board meets again at 5 p.m. on Sept. 10 in the City Courtroom at Police Headquarters on Water Street

Coomes saw a "quantitative issue" that apparently includes filling open positions including the detective sergeant's position and a patrol officer's job. The former chief also acknowledged an "emotional" issue.

There were no conclusions from the discussion that night.

"I would agree 95 percent of the time to promote from within," Fuller said. "But I'm just throwing this out there" for discussion.

The Rev. Steve Thomas said he could argue "both ways," and offered a suggestion which he repeated during a telephone call on Friday.

"The thing to do is advertise and see what we get," Thomas said. "Current employees should have an opportunity."

The other side of the coin is that there is an appearance, at least, of some "youth in the job" and that's a cause for concern when one of the positions is a "designated leadership" position, said Thomas who also serves as one of the chaplains for the police officers.

Fuller said, "If we had someone there with five to seven years of experience, it would be logical for them to move up, but we don't have that."

Also that evening, Forbis reported he was pleased with the quality of applicants for an opening in the patrol division. The top three candidates have been culled from nearly four dozen applicants. All have experience.

Forbis also said he and Chief Deputy Billy Lamb of the Marshall County Sheriff's Department have formed a joint agency response team. It might otherwise be called a rapid response team to deal with hostage situations or those with a barricaded subject. Five officers have been designated in each department as members of the team.

Meanwhile, a website for the Lewisburg Police Department is being developed for the Internet.