By Joe Beck - firstname.lastname@example.org
Chief Norman A. Shiflett will be only the most visible of many new faces in the Front Royal Police Department when he arrives for his first day of work Monday.
Shifflet will be joining seven newly hired patrol officers, several of them still months away from being deployed on the street. Four of them are scheduled to be introduced with Shiflett to the town council Monday night. The others were introduced at an earlier meeting.
Capt. R. Clint Keller, commander of the department's patrol division, said the new officers' arrival relieves some of the pressure borne by others who have worked longer hours to maintain service while the department was short handed over many months.
"It's the light at the end of the tunnel for the officers that have been working double shifts," Keller said. "They will have more free time."
The new officers mean the 26-member patrol division Keller commands has now filled all its vacancies, a process that can take up to two years from the time a position is vacated until the completion of field training for the newly hired. Keller said. Some of the new officers have already begun patrolling, but others will be training at the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy until they graduate in December.
The new officers already on the road are Marc Ramey, Brad Pennington, Brian House and Thomas McIntyre. Those attending the police academy are Tyler Smith, Bryan Staley and Michael Gallagher.
Those graduating from the academy will undergo another three or four months of field training accompanied by veteran patrol officers before they are allowed to work on their own, Keller said.
The months of academy and field training follow a hiring process that begins with advertisements for recruits and continues with a winnowing process that involves testing for psychological and physical fitness, lie detector tests, background checks and several interviews.
Keller said town residents shouldn't notice any changes in the department's crime-fighting abilities, despite 27 percent of the patrol officers being new to the force. The department is now staffed with a mix of young and veteran officers that he said he thinks is desirable.
"We have a good balance of officers that will make for good teamwork in the department," Keller said. "In this department, when we have somebody go down with injuries, we still maintain our services. The officers that are left come in and fill in short shifts on their days off."
Still, he admitted that new officers face a steep learning curve.
"For three to five years, they're considered rookies because it takes awhile to pick this job up," Keller said.
The vacancies filled in recent months stemmed from a combination of retirements and decisions by officers to join other departments or other lines of work.
Keller said some members of the department, like recently retired Chief Richard H. Furr, are at or near retirement age. He likened the situation to professional sports teams that seldom maintain the same personnel, unlike decades ago when turnover was less.
"Now it's hard to have the same team and the same players," he said. "People here come from localities, and you're always going to have change. Sometimes you get it more than others."