MORGANTOWN — The city of Morgantown is looking for ways to work with the city’s police civil service commission to expedite the hiring process for police officers.
Among the city’s suggestions, condense the civil service commission process and shift some of the evaluation responsibility from the commission to the police chief and/or city manager.
It’s been well reported that the MPD is facing a serious staffing shortfall, with some 21 unfilled officer positions.
But filling those openings is no small feat.
Under West Virginia Code, the city is required to have a three-member police civil service commission tasked with setting procedures for hiring, promotion and other necessary functions within the police department.
In the current hiring process, a candidate must satisfy the commission through a number of examinations and evaluations before being presented to the appointing officer (city manager) as eligible for hire.
Those initial steps include a written examination, a physical agility test, an oral examination and a polygraph examination.
These steps, plus background checks and psychological evaluations, precede actual police academy training in the case of new officers.
“We did suggest the commission consider some changes where many parts other than the written examination and physical agility test would be evaluated by the commission and provided along with the eligibles list to the appointing officer, but not be something that disqualifies someone from being eligible for hire,” City Attorney Ryan Simonton said.
Simonton said the goal is to simply shorten the process as it’s common to lose candidates along the way to other employers or waning interest.
Councilor Danielle Trumble explained she would prefer judgment calls be made by the police chief and city manager when, for instance, a minor issue from years back pops up on a background check.
“Now we’re leaving them in the hands of the civil service commission while we’re down 20 officers and struggling for applicants,” she said. “I don’t know. Seems to me like that should be at least partially decided by the city, the city manager, the police chief if that person is actually eligible or not.”
The commission did make some concession in the most recent update to its rules and regulations by removing the “pass/fail” determination for oral examinations and allowing that to simply be used by the city manager when choosing from eligible applicants.
The updates also specify 70% is the required passing score for the written exam. It was explained that was traditionally already the mark, it just wasn’t spelled out.
Beyond official rule changes, City Manager Kim Haws said he’d like to see efforts made to simply get things done faster.
“We’re trying to help the commission maybe package some of those requirements. In other words, rather than making them sequential, making them so … you come in, you’re going to get polygraphed and do the physical agility — not wait for one to be completed before you move to the other,” he said.
“So, we recognize, and we’ve recognized for a while the cumbersome nature of the process. And yet, because of civil service laws, the city has little control over some of those processes.”
According to state law, civil service commissions are to be comprised of one appointee by the mayor/city manager; one appointee from the fraternal order of police; and one appointee from the chamber of commerce. No more than two commissioners may be registered members of the same party.
According to the city’s website, the Morgantown Police Civil Service Commission includes Jerry Summers (R – chamber of commerce); Kevin Clark (Ind. – FOP). The city manager appointment is vacant.
As of Oct. 2, the city had 25 applicants for its Oct. 28 entry level testing.