SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The news of a second Sioux Falls police officer arrested on child pornography charges has elicited a strong reaction from the community. KELOLAND News spoke with Sioux Falls’ Chief of Police Jon Thum about the hiring and screening process for Sioux Falls police.
Thum explained the process by which potential officers are screened for issues such as involvement in child pornography.
“When someone passes the interview phase of our process, they’re given a pre-employment questionnaire, which is basically a background packet,” said Thum. “In that background packet, we delve into every fact in their life, and they have to provide responses to each and everything, including — in this situation — child pornography or any other crime.”
A self-reporting questionnaire is not the end of the process, however. Thum says that on top of this, recruits also undergo a polygraph test that is used to verify the truthfulness of what the applicants claim.
Thum says polygraphs are common in the law enforcement world when it comes to hiring. “Not all agencies offer that polygraph test — but we instituted it quite some time ago and it has been very beneficial for us. Most larger agencies, and ones that want to get the most vetting they can before they hire, will implement that polygraph,” he said.
Thum also defended the validity of polygraphs and claimed that there are many common misconceptions about the technology and its effectiveness.
“People look and they Google stuff on the internet and they think of the old machine with the paper scrolling through and a bunch of bouncing needles. That’s not the case. It’s very digitized; it’s very technical; medical, and really is based in a lot of practice,” said Thum. “It’s not just something that’s made up. It’s very very regulated.”
Despite the attention paid to screening, officers Schauer and Jock slipped through. Thum says this was not a failure of that screening process. “This is something different,” he said. “The hiring system in place has worked very well for years and eliminated numerous candidates that were not suitable for our organization.”
Asked why Schauer and Jock were not eliminated by the system, Thum stood by the process. “There’s no saying for sure that the polygraph didn’t work,” he said. “This is stuff that could have developed post polygraph. This is stuff that could have happened after the fact. We’re talking about time and space and distance that we just simply can’t account for.”
Thum also acknowledged that no process is 100% perfect. While many would like to hear that something like this will never happen again, he points out that such a guarantee would be unrealistic.
“I can’t promise you anything,” said Thum. “I can look back at our history as an organization and tell you that this is an incredibly unique situation for us, and I want it to remain an incredibly unique situation for us.”
Thum does point out that the SFPD has never dealt with a situation like these before, and says there is nothing to suggest that they will need to deal with more instances of officers charged with child pornography in the future.
In terms of the effect of these cases on the department, Thum spoke about the impact on recruitment.
“I can certainly tell you it’s probably not a great thing to have out in the news right now, as far as recruitment goes,” said Thum. “Our reputation as an organization has been outstanding for years and years, which has brought us recruits, and it’s allowed us to fill our ranks.”
Thum said that in order to address this concern, they will confront the matter head on. “Yeah, this is outside of what our expectations are as an agency, and if you step outside of that, you’re not going to be employed by us. We want people who are offended by this. We want people who see this and see our response as a positive.”
The SFPD hired 13 new recruits Monday, and Thum said he spoke with them about the issue. “This morning I walked into their training room, gave them a full brief on what’s going on, and how this is outside of our values and organization.”
When it comes to changes to the way hiring and screening is done, Thum did not provide specifics, but suggested changes were not out of question.
“Everything is under constant evaluation,” Thum said. “As you move forward as an organization, you’re constantly evaluating your procedures, and you’re never just going to hold pat with what you have. I think as we work through this — we’ll see what changes we can make and see where there’s room for improvement. If you’re not seeking for improvement in your areas, really you’re not doing your due diligence as an organization.”