City working through retirements, promotions and hiring within RPD
Over hiring taking place to compensate for retirements
ROCHELLE — Amid an unprecedented time of retirements and hiring for open positions, City of Rochelle leadership has authorized the Rochelle Police Department to over hire and go up to 23 sworn officers, RPD Chief Eric Higby said. Previously 21 was the maximum.
Higby is among those retirements and his last day will be March 14. Much of his recent work has involved hiring new officers and managing turnover and staffing. RPD is currently working to hire four police officers. Over hiring will allow the city to compensate for recent and expected upcoming retirements.
“That will help us to not go under water like we have been,” Higby said. “We've got some officers injured too. If you compare and contrast it to more than five years ago, we didn't have the officers in the schools as resource officers either. You kind of lose those two officers with that and then you have a couple hurt and then if you're under on numbers overall too, you're really under on the street."
Higby called the council allow over hiring “fantastic” and “a big step” to ensuring adequate staffing.
“Had that not happened, eventually we would've gotten to a point where it would be almost a crisis situation where everybody from upstairs would have to be on the streets as well just to handle calls,” Higby said. “And nobody wants to see us get that short. I'm glad they saw the light and allowed it. It's great."
RPD recently ran two hiring cycles for officers and has four in its hiring pipeline currently. Three will start the academy the last week of April and the fourth will in the late summer, Higby said. Sauk Valley Community College recently started a police academy in January which is where three of RPD’s planned hires will be going.
“We'll be using that due to proximity,” Higby said. “We have someone in the academy now down in Decatur. That's a good academy, but the one at SVCC is so much closer and we'll try this and see how it works. It's new and just started in January. They're running their first class now and we'll be in the second class. I think having that nearby will help us in the future. If you have local people here, it's better than 2.5 hours to Champaign or Macon County and Decatur. I think it'll help."
Higby called seeing retirements and working on new hires during the past two years “difficult and strange.” But, he feels positive about the department’s future as he approaches retirement.
“It's been nice at the same time, because when you get new hires, it's like new life blood,” Higby said. “Everybody has a different enthusiasm and it's more fun when you're not stagnant. We were stagnant for so long here and we didn't have promotions or new hires. And that's when people get frustrated."
City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh called working on hiring for the police department recently “stressful,” and thanked RPD officers and dispatchers for their work while the department has been understaffed.
While hiring for police officer positions has been more difficult recently, Fiegenschuh said it’s a top priority for himself and the mayor and city council, for the safety of the public and officers.
“People think that a lot of stuff doesn't happen in Rochelle, but it does,” Fiegenschuh said. “We need to protect our police officers and the best way to do that is to make sure they're fully-staffed and have enough officers on duty. Then you have people who might go out on injury. You have to plan for injuries. Retirements happen more quickly than replacements. We have four people now who are ready to go through the academy at Sauk Valley. But even then, they won't be on their own for a while. You're not really fully staffed until they're out on their own.”
Fiegenschuh said once the four new planned hires are on board, the city plans to reassess and put a new hiring list together and make additional hires if needed. He wants RPD to be on top of timing and plan ahead with more retirements on the horizon.
“If someone says they're retiring in June and it's September, especially if they need to go through the academy, we need to make sure we get those slots filled,” Fiegenschuh said. “It's all about timing, but it's extremely important and a top priority and it will continue to be. I believe in RPD and safety and protecting them. The best way to do that is a fully-staffed department."
Fiegenschuh said he’s never seen the amount of turnover RPD is currently dealing with due to retirements in his 20 years in city management. Down the road, he wants to make sure that doesn’t become an issue again by continually reassessing staffing and looking at succession planning.
Fiegenschuh said he believes RPD’s officer numbers will be where they need to be going forward for sufficient staffing. He wants to put officers’ mental and emotional health needs first and make sure they’re not overworked. He’s looking forward to working with new Interim Chief Pete Pavia to move the department ahead.
“It's going to be a completely different-looking department than it was when I first came here,” Fiegenschuh said. “When people look at a premier police department in the region, I want them to think of us first."