West Allis officials disagree on search for next top cop

Aug. 14, 2012

West Allis - How wide a net West Allis will be able to cast to find a new police chief is up in the air and a point of controversy.

The city's Police and Fire Commission had asked for $10,000 to find a replacement for Chief Mike Jungbluth, who will retire at the end of the year. That would pretty much finance a nationwide search, said Joseph Kempen, commission chairman.

But the West Allis Common Council reduced the amount to $5,000, an action that left some aldermen saying it narrows the pool of candidates too much. At the least, it reduces how much the commission can advertise the position.

"I think it's wrong for the council to tell the Police and Fire Commission where to hire from," said Alderman Michael Czaplewski. "I'm worried that they're not going to get the best man for the job."

Historically from within

But Alderman James Sengstock said there's no reason to look beyond the department.

"There are a couple of ranking officers who do have the qualifications and have been with the city a number of years and know the city well," he said. "Quite frankly, either one is qualified and capable of leading the department."

The commission normally finds a chief from among the ranking officers, Sengstock said, and he sees no reason to change that.

"It's worked well for the city," he said, adding that in his view the commission hasn't made enough of a case for deviating from past practice.

Shallower pool

But this situation is different than normal, Kempen said.

The pool of candidates is smaller because the department has had so many retirements of officers with 20 to 30 years experience, he said - in fact, the police will have lost 30 senior officers in two years.

"We have a number of good candidates within the department," Kempen acknowledged, but because of the retirements, the commission felt it was appropriate to look outside to see how they measure up.

But he said, "In no way, shape or form have we given up on our internal candidates."

Management issues

Another consideration that is different this time around, Kempen said, is that the new chief will face stiffer challenges than normal because of the large turnover.

Casting a net outside the department has been criticized as wasting all the time and training the Police Department devotes to developing officers to take top command posts.

But Kempen said that money and time has not been wasted because it is helping the department maintain quality at all levels, with 30 new officers coming onboard.

Impact on search process

How far the $5,000 will go will be discussed by the commission. It had budgeted $5,000 to advertise for a new chief and $5,000 to evaluate candidates, using such methods as peer review by other police chiefs and psychological and physical testing.

"I'm not sure it's going to be enough," Kempen said.

If not, the process of finding a new chief might run into next year, he said. That's when the commission gets its new budget and has more money it could use to complete the job.

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