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Gettysburg Police Dept. faces staffing, diversity challenges

Editor’s note: The is the third of a four-part series about the Gettysburg Police Department.  I thank Chief Robert Glenny and Mayor Rita Frealing for generously spending time talking with me. We value your comments — please leave them below.

The Gettysburg Police Department, currently staffed with 11 full-time employees, is facing potential staff shortages in the near future in its quest to keep positions filled and create gender and ethnic diversity in the department.

“The current recruitment environment is difficult,” said Chief Robert Glenny. “There are fewer and fewer applications and more and more openings. The number of qualified candidates for law enforcement positions has steadily declined, the pass rate for police academies is down, and the vetting required for hiring new officers is more stringent.”

Glenny said in the last round of recruiting there was only one applicant for the posted vacancy, whereas in the past the department used to get dozens. “Officer Eric Wenrick was our most recent hire. It’s hard to get people to apply.  We are so lucky to have him.”

Glenny said identifying candidates to fill vacancies is a time-consuming process. “We only get the applications we get. For the last civil service opening we advertised on the PA Police Chiefs website and also nationally at https://www.discoverpolicing.org/. We looked locally, and we also paid to have the ad sent out to sites that specialize in jobs for minorities.”

Glenny said the current hiring policies only allow the department to hire people who are already certified as police officers. “These are predominately those folks who put themselves through the police academy,” said Glenny. “They are predominately white males in their 20s.”

Glenny said there were several police training academies in the state, with staff appointed by the governor. “You have to go through one of these or else be certified from out of state.”

Glenny said the state would reimburse people 50 percent or more to send people to one of the state’s police academies if the borough paid the rest. “It’s not inexpensive,” he said. “You have to pay the salary of the person you’re sending as well as their benefits. We would increase our applicant pool if we paid for it. That would be an opportunity to get some local folks onto the police department.”

Hiring for full-time positions in the police department is coordinated by the borough’s Civil Service Commission.  “We have very little involvement; the borough determines who can take the test,” said Glenny.

When a hire is needed, the borough posts an announcement and those who apply come to take the certification test as well as a physical and psychological interview.

Glenny said after the interviews the civil commission presents the chief with a list of acceptable candidates. The chief can select any one of the top three on the list, but is required to hire a veteran if one is available.

“Part-time, we can hire pretty much whomever we want,” said Glenny.  “Everyone since I’ve been here has had a significant background investigation. We did this even before the state required it.” 

Glenny said part-time hires completed the same tests as full-time hires.

Police Force Diversity

Glenny said that at present all the department’s full-time officers are white males, but that there had been female and minority officers in the past, with the last leaving about 18 months ago.

Heyser said he knew of three past female officers: Cytha Grissom, Katherine Sass, and Brandi Courtesis. Grissom recently retired as Chief of the Shippensburg University Police Department.

Mayor Rita Frealing said there had also been one or more African American officers on the force, including Roosevelt Sistrunk who retired in the late 1990s. Frealing said there was a photo of Sistrunk in the new African American Museum at the Gettysburg Lutheran seminary.

Borough Secretary Sara Stull said records showed the borough had hired about 15 female officers over the past 30 years, as well as 4 males who were not of white ethnicity.

“We don’t have anyone who speaks fluent Spanish. Officers can take a course on Spanish for officers; we use the [translation] app on the phone. It would be beneficial for us to have a Spanish speaker on board,” said Glenny.

Echoing Glenny’s expressed desire for the borough to help pay for certification, Borough Council President Wes Heyser said “A change that the borough and civil service commission need to start to prioritize is hiring personnel who are not trained and sending them to the academy. While this is coming up due to the recurring unavailability of trained personnel, a benefit of this method is that it should offer more opportunities to people of diverse backgrounds to join our police department.”

Stull said the department follows civil service regulations and that anyone can apply. “We send our announcements to diversity agencies; unfortunately those sectors don’t apply.”

“It’s a dangerous position.  Especially for people with small families and children – it’s a risk.  I’m grateful to them,” she said.

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Charles Stangor is Gettysburg Connection's Publisher and Editor in Chief.

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