Gillette police recruit in Michigan

2006-11-09T00:00:00Z Gillette police recruit in MichiganJAMES WARDEN The (Gillette) News-Record Casper Star-Tribune Online
November 09, 2006 12:00 am  • 

GILLETTE - Kelly Alger would seem to be the new face of the Gillette Police Department.

The new recruit hails from White Cloud, Mich., and is one of three new officers from the Ferris State University law enforcement academy in Big Rapids, Mich.

Alger and the other Michigan recruits who were sworn in to the department last month have garnered nationwide attention recently from media interested in the draw of Gillette's boomtown economy from bust areas centered around the old automotive factories.

However, the Michigan officers are just the whitecaps of the sea change that has washed over the department in the past two years.

Police Chief Rich Adriaens is both the captain and the vanguard of that transformation. He left Royal Oak, Mich., to fill the Gillette departments top spot in January 2005 when Police Chief Ric Paul, a 30-year veteran of the force, decided to retire.

Paul's retirement was the first of many to hit the department in subsequent months. Since Adriaens stepped in, 26 out of 73 positions have changed, more than 35 percent of the department's work force, he said.

The attrition rate has been highest among the departments senior officers. Adriaens has promoted 12 people since he's been here, a total that makes up fully 80 percent of the agency's command staff, Adriaens said.

These are challenges that can and have overcome many other local workplaces. Yet the department was fully staffed in mid-October, the first time that had happened in five years, Adriaens said.

Paul Konrad, a former officer turned recruiter, credits Adriaens recruiting efforts for the success.

The department piggybacked off of local recruiting efforts at Michigan job fairs. When that didn't turn up as many applicants as hoped, the chief himself went to Michigan and recruited people.

Meanwhile, regular officers and recruiters such as Konrad tried every approach they could think of to attract new officers, including chatting with people during traffic stops.

"We talked to everybody," Konrad said.

Only 25 Michigan recruits applied for the jobs - a remarkable total, sure, but far from the majority. There are now just three Michigan recruits, plus the chief.

Instead, the real shift has been away from the older, longtime Campbell County residents who once made up the force.

"We're a lot younger, Adriaens said. "We're a lot more diverse (in our) backgrounds."

Cpl. Steve Wageman, who Adriaens promoted Friday, said the competition has also gotten tougher since he joined the force. When Wageman applied for a police officer job in 1988, he was one of only three people wearing a suit out of 77 applicants. The rest wore sleeveless T-shirts, Harley-Davidson jackets, or even Hawaiian shirts. In the end, the three people wearing suits got the jobs.

That doesn't happen today, he said.

Alger and his Michigan cohorts all have graduated already from a law enforcement academy, meaning the department only has to send them to a two-week class on Wyoming law instead of the typical 13-week academy.

Darin Powers, who was sworn in with Alger, came from the Great Falls, Mont., Police Department, but started his career in Wyoming and needed no extra academy training.

The numbers alone show how competitive its become. More than 100 people applied for the vacant police officer jobs. The department interviewed and tested 44 people. And it hired just 11 new officers.

"I think a lot of the officers that are coming aboard have been looking at this (career) for a long time," Konrad said.

Adriaens is presiding over a department that's very different from the one that he inherited from his predecessor. Alger is certainly one face of that transformation. But so is Powers, and Wageman - and even the chief himself.

"We're changing the same way our city's been changing," Adriaens said.

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