What goes into the hiring of a Woodburn police officer?
Following the news that two Woodburn police officers faced or are facing criminal charges related to illicit sexual behavior, Woodburn Police Chief Jim Ferraris and the police department is reviewing the personnel packages for the two officers to determine whether the department needs to change any of its practices.
"I think we're putting our head in the sand if we don't look at how did this happen, how did it come to be," Ferraris said. "If there's something we need to retool or refine, we'll do that."
Officer Daniel Kerbs, 29, was arrested on July 27 on 13 felony charges related to child sexual abuse. The charges stem from acts allegedly committed against a juvenile girl in Tigard in 2013 and 2014. Kerbs, who had no criminal record prior to his arrest, allegedly committed the crimes before he was hired by the department in January 2015. Kerbs was placed on unpaid administrative leave last week. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on Aug. 8.
And former detective Timothy Cobos pleaded guilty to official misconduct on July 25 after an internal criminal investigation revealed he had engaged in sexual encounters while on duty, including inside his patrol car. Cobos resigned from the department and filed his decertification with the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. Cobos was hired by the department in 2006 and had worked as a police officer since 2002.
Though the cases are unrelated, they both raise questions of what goes into the hiring process for police officers.
Ferraris became police chief of the department in November 2015, after both Kerbs and Cobos had already been hired. He said he can't speak to the hiring processes of past Woodburn Police Department leadership, but said the current process used by the department is extremely thorough.
"I'm confident that the hiring practices that we have in place currently, in partnership with our human resources department, meet industry best practices and standards — meet or exceed, quite frankly," Ferraris said.
The process of hiring an entry-level police officer is thorough, involving background checks, extensive interviewing and medical and psychological examinations. Ferraris said the process can take between 45 and 180 days, depending on the number of applicants, where the applicants live and the schedules of the many people involved in the hiring process.
To meet the minimum application qualifications, candidates must meet physical and medical standards outlined by DPSST, have a high school diploma or GED, and have no criminal record, among other requirements. If an applicant meets the minimum qualifications for the job, Ferraris said applicants are required to take an online exam conducted by the National Testing Network. The test, which spans two and a half hours, evaluates the candidates' human relations, judgment, and writing and reading skills.
Applicants who do well on the test are then invited to participate in a panel interview at the department. Ferraris said the panel usually consists of three to five people, sometimes including community members. Ferraris said the panel could ask the candidates why they want to be police offices, what knowledge, skills and abilities the candidates have that are relevant to the position, along with scenario-based questions. Ferraris said those scenario-based questions can show the candidates' views on ethics, community policing and bias.
The candidates are then scored on their performance in the panel interview. The highest-scoring applicants then undergo further examination, which Ferraris said is often under a conditional offer of employment. That includes a background investigation process and a psychological examination.
For the background investigation, Ferraris said candidates must submit a personal history questionnaire. Candidates must list their education history, employment history, references, family members, friends, their driving record, their criminal record and more.
"Most things about people are covered in the personal history questionnaire," Ferraris said.
The department contracts with a background investigator, who Ferraris said is usually a DPSST-certified private investigator. The investigator conducts in-person interviews with family members, friends and current and former employees, and runs military verification checks, criminal record checks and other background investigations.
The background investigator then writes a comprehensive report on the candidate, which is given to the department and to a police psychologist, who reviews the information before interviewing the candidate.
The candidates then undergo psychological evaluations. Ferraris said the candidates first take a number of multiple-choice personality exams and then undergo in-person interviews with the police psychologist.
"The psychologist has the background investigation results before the psychological exam so they can examine it for red flags or items of interest," Ferraris said. The goal of the psychological exams, Ferraris said, is to determine "whether the person's psychological makeup and background is conducive to a position in law enforcement."
The final phase of the hiring process is a medical examination and drug screen test. The medical exam ensures the candidates meet the physical conditions outlined by DPSST, which include eyesight, hearing and blood pressure requirements.
Before any offer of employment, Ferraris personally interviews each candidate.
"I talk about a variety of topics. I could ask a series of questions related to contemporary policing issues, community policing, use of force, ethics and integrity," Ferraris said.
Following the news about Cobos and Kerbs, Ferraris said the department will be reviewing aspects of its employment.
"Maybe we can come to a conclusion, maybe we can't," Ferraris said. "We won't know until we do the postmortem and figure it out."
Ferraris said that even though the hiring process is thorough, it can't always account for human nature.
"We're dealing with humans and sometimes human behavior is unpredictable, regardless of the thoroughness or in-depthness of pre-employment screening and investigation," Ferraris said.