Would you be a good cop? Smithfield police talk about requirements

SMITHFIELD — Chief Johnny McCoy has built the Smithfield City Police Department from the ground up. In 2000, he left his job as a lieutenant in Evanston, Wyo. to help start the department. McCoy now has eight full-time officers and three part time reserves (volunteers). McCoy has been in law enforcement since 1981, and police chief since 2000.

“As far back as I can remember I wanted to be a police officer.” McCoy said, “my father was a state trooper.”

McCoy has devised a deliberate system to ensure the quality of the officers that he hires. “The very first thing I look for on applications is if it is completely filled out.” McCoy said, “every question is there for a reason.” McCoy said that he then looks to see if and when the individual graduated from a police academy. If they have fulfilled these requirements McCoy puts the applicants through an interview.

There are specific categories and characteristics McCoy seeks when interviewing. “I check to see how accurately they filled out their work history,” McCoy said. “I look to see if they present themselves with confidence, but not are overly cocky.”

McCoy seeks to find the individual’s integrity, if they will act in accordance with police code, and their motivation for wanting to be in law enforcement. “I ask if they have been through an academy, how they financed it, if they are furthering their education, and their motivation,” McCoy said.

Just having the required credentials is not enough to be an officer in McCoy’s agency. “I look for their overall suitability,” McCoy said. “Just because you can sing, doesn’t mean you can be part of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.”

McCoy has developed a career development program for his officers to help encourage them to improve their skills and knowledge. There are five levels of achievement in the system with the final one being the “master” level. McCoy presents the officers with pins to show what level they have achieved. “Each level has criteria to encourage growth, knowledge, and skills.” McCoy said.

“Each officer is responsible for their own mentor group. The group consists of a supervisor not involved in law enforcement, a supervisor from another agency, and myself.”

Sgt. Nick Hidalgo is currently working on furthering his education with financial help from the city. Hidalgo is working on his bachelors in criminal justice with an emphasis in management at the University of Phoenix. “We have city council members that see the benefit of having employees furthering their education,” Hidalgo said.

Hidalgo receives reimbursement for 50 percent of his tuition and books that directly relate to his job. “In the beginning, I didn’t get much money because it was mostly general courses,” Hidalgo said.

In order to continue receiving help from the city Hidalgo must be enrolled in six credit hours a semester, pass with a C or better, and come back to the council with a receipt and his transcript. He is also required to stay for two years following the completion of his degree.

“I plan on staying here forever,” Hidalgo said. “I love Smithfield, the department, and the area.” Hidalgo previously worked at the Cache County Jail before being hired by McCoy.

Furthering education is just one of the many things the career development program encourages. “We make arrangements to go to Salt Lake City so the officers can get a big city experience,” said McCoy.

Other requirements involve personal fitness and field experiences such as responding to a domestic dispute or a robbery.

“This is a permanent record so if the officer would like to go to another agency they can show them their book that has all of their experience documented,” McCoy said.

With each level of achievement the officer is given an allowance to spend on special items that may be useful in the field.

McCoy has eight full time officers because that is what the city allows in the budget. “There are several different equations you can use to determine how big your agency should be,” McCoy said. "The old FBI form goes off of population, you can use an equation based off of workload, or what the city determines they have money for.

“We have 10,000 people in Smithfield, we are two short.” McCoy said, “if we go off workload we are five officers short. The city has said we will stick with eight because that is what we can afford.”

Hidalgo will be finished with his degree in February 2013, and has been working on his degree since fall 2010.

Published in cooperation with the Hard News Cafe. Original story is here.