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Kokomo Mayor Tyler Moore gives the oath of office to the newest Kokomo police officers Travis Cooper, Samantha Raber and Issa Oliver, with Chief Doug Stout (right) watching, on Jan. 4, 2021.

As the camera pans out, bold words flash across the television screen.

“You’re welcome in Kokomo,” they read.

Mayor Tyler Moore — with outstretched arms — stands surrounded by current members of the Kokomo Police Department and some other community leaders.

It’s all part of a 30-second commercial that began airing last fall in Indianapolis and South Bend, asking for applicants to join KPD.

The advertisement also highlights a 20% pay raise for officers over a three-year period, beginning in 2021, a move that was approved as part of a contract last year with the Fraternal Order of Police Local 78.

The new contract places the starting salary of first-class patrolmen at $59,444, with an increase to $61,846 by 2023.

Along with the commercial, the department also started up a website — www.joinkokomopd.com — for potential officers, which highlights everything from salaries and benefits to an explanation of the hiring process and how to apply.

And the recruitment campaign, officials say, appears to be working.

Since Jan. 1, 2020, KPD has hired 15 new officers alone, and Chief Doug Stout said there are also around 50 individuals who have applied and are just waiting for the next step.

That puts the total number of sworn officers with the department at 82.

But that number still is nowhere near where the department wants to be or even should be, Stout added.

NUMBER’S GAME

“The studies that were conducted by the prior administration with a consulting firm which had to come to investigate specifically the KPD, their evaluation indicated that under no situation should this city be under 90 officers,” Stout said after an officer swearing-in ceremony earlier this month at City Hall. “That’s based on the layout of the city and the complexity of this city.”

That’s why the department’s recruitment campaign to get more “boots on the ground” is so important, the chief stated.

“Truly, the 100 mark is actually the mark at which I and other studies and past administrators of this department know that this city ultimately needs. It’s not to overfund or overstaff, but it’s to provide the quality of service that the citizens of this city deserve and expect.”

And while 15 new officers does sound like a sizable bump in the right direction, officials noted that issues like attrition — such as planned retirements or other unforeseen departures of current officers — also have an effect on the department’s overall net gain.

But it’s not necessarily just about the number of officers that department and city officials are concerned with, Stout pointed out. It’s also about producing a police force that mirrors the city it represents.

A DIVERSE POOL

When Stout became KPD’s police chief in January 2020 with the start of the new mayoral administration, one of his goals at the time was to help create a more diverse police department.

And that goal is still true today, he noted, as right now at KPD, there are only two Black officers and just a handful of other officers of color or female officers on staff.

That’s also another reason for the recent recruitment campaign.

“The diversity of this department can’t improve just based on the citizens of Kokomo alone,” Stout said. “It still wouldn’t be accurate. The only way that diversity can improve is to reach outside of the city and to other departments and be able to attract a more diverse applicant pool where all of them have the same fair shot at getting through the recruitment process … and that they can also be part of the change that’s going on around the country.”

That’s why KPD Officer Edith Forestal — the department’s recruiter — travels around to so many job fairs and community events, Stout added, in an effort to reach a wider population.

And sometimes too — as has been the case recently — other officers just reach out to KPD.

LATERAL MOVES

Of the past 15 new KPD hires since January 2020, officials note nearly half came to the department from other law enforcement agencies around Indiana and even outside of it.

Called a lateral move, it’s also one of the quickest routes to obtain new officers.

“The biggest benefit is that they’ve already been through the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, which is a 15-week academy,” Capt. Heath Haalck noted. “So that’s 15 weeks that we’ve saved by not having to send someone there. … They just go directly into a field training phase. Once they get done with their field training, they then get right on the streets.”

But while the lateral applicant doesn’t have to attend the academy or take certain examinations that a brand new applicant would, officials were quick to add that investigations — such as a polygraph and psychological testing — into a lateral hire’s background are still just as extensive as they would be on anyone else before being hired onto the department.

And hiring lateral applicants can also be a win-win for everyone involved, Stout said.

“With lateral hires, it often gives us the opportunity to see how other departments do certain things,” the chief noted. “We have policies and procedures and guidelines, all these things that have been in place that I’m sure have been modified over time. But how do officers in City A respond to this type of situation? How do they do it in City B?

“It [a lateral hire] often allows us to receive input … improve our procedures, our response and our operation for this city,” Stout added. “… The level of experience, for me, is irrelevant. Every officer that has done this job for either six months or 20 years may see something that can be improved.”

Because in the end, it’s really all just about properly protecting the citizens of this community, officials noted.

COMMUNITY IMPACT

Trying to find the best of the best.

That’s how Haalck described the efforts of KPD’s recruitment campaign over the last few months.

“We’re a professional law enforcement agency,” he said. “We don’t just hire to hire. It’s a strenuous process because we want to make sure that we’re getting very qualified officers. So when people see these officers on the streets or in squad cars or out eating, they know those officers have been through a lot of training and are some of the most qualified ones out there.”

Stout agreed, saying that the department has a large responsibility to its public to hire and maintain a strong department.

And he hopes that the public is just as proud as he is, he added.

“My message to the public is this,” Stout said. “We’re going to continue to seek, locate and try to attract the best of the best officers. … Basic applicants, lateral applicants, that’s not going to change. The citizens still deserve the best of the best in their police department, and that’s exactly what we’re striving for.”

And that’s all music to the ears of Mayor Moore, who recently received an award from the state FOP for his role in helping initiate KPD’s recruitment campaign and 20% raise.

“The message that has been sent here is that we’re not just going to talk the talk, but we’re ready to walk the walk too,” he said. “Those who have seen the opportunity in Kokomo will already experience that, and we’re not just stopping there. If people are interested, we’re hiring.”

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