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Hiring Process – LPD Police Chief

There is at least one media outlet that has questioned the hiring process used by the City of Lakeland when Lisa Womack was selected as Police Chief in December 2010. For clarification to the citizens of Lakeland, the process used to assess the Police Chief candidates in 2010 was comprehensive, unbiased and focused on the qualifications deemed necessary to lead the Lakeland Police Department (LPD). The reason Womack was chosen as Chief is very simple: She was the best person for the job.

The recruitment process started with a review of the Police Chief’s job description in the summer of 2010 which involved meetings with the incumbent and City Manager to ensure the desired job characteristics were included in the drafting of the Police Chief Competency Model, which was used to help identify the ideal candidate. The selection process included the appointment of an interview panel that included three local community representatives with business and leadership experience, a former Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) executive and several City senior management personnel. 

Members of the panel were:
Doug Thomas, City Manager
Tony Delgado, Deputy City Manager
Stanley Hawthorne, Assistant City Manager
Tim McCausland, City Attorney
Sandy Toledo, President, Lakeland Neighborhood Association Coalition (NAC)
Dr.  James Sewell, Retired, Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE)
Alice Hunt, Hunt Construction & Incoming Chair, Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce
Sylvia Blackmon-Roberts, Lakeland Civil Service Board Member & Blackmon-Roberts Group

This same process has successfully resulted in the selection of several other outstanding Lakeland employees that are recognized both statewide and nationally as leaders in their fields.   

The City began with a total of 113 applicants from across the country.  The Civil Service Division reviewed the standards, college transcripts and related qualifications and reduced the number of viable candidates to 63 individuals who met the minimum qualifications for the position. Civil Service subsequently developed a competency matrix for a more in-depth resume review and narrowed down the list to 27 individuals which were recommended to the interview panel for further consideration.

After reviewing the initial 27 candidates and evaluating their credentials and work history, the interview panel subsequently reduced the list to 13 semi-finalists, which then participated in telephone interviews and a questionnaire that required written responses.  This information was then evaluated both by Civil Service and the interview panel, and the candidate pool was ultimately reduced to six finalists by the panel who then were invited to participate in a very comprehensive multi-step interview process.

The finalists were: 
Gene Bernal
Jamie Fields
James Golden, Jr.
William LePere
Pedro Perez
Lisa Womack

Civil Service staff conducted background investigations of the top candidates, including professional search tools such as AccuScreen incorporating an extensive review of national and global law enforcement and security databases.  Finalists also underwent personality tests to evaluate behavioral characteristics that could affect work relationships, productivity and career potential and determine their suitability to the Police Chief position based upon the Competency Model.

The Civil Service Division prepared a Competency-Based Panel Interview Guide and reviewed the results of the personality tests with the panel prior to them conducting interviews with the finalists on December 16, 2010.  The City Manager participated in the panel interview to gage how the candidates addressed questions and responded to the panelists.  Following their interview process, the City Manager solicited feedback from the panel as to the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate and solicited any follow-up questions the panelists wanted asked of the finalists during next step in the process which involved a one-on-one interview with the City Manager.  That evening all the candidates participated in a public “Meet the Candidates” Reception at the Lakeland Center which represented an opportunity for community stakeholders and the public to meet and ask questions informally of all the Police Chief candidates.

Additionally, each candidate was interviewed by the West Central Florida Police Benevolent Association (WCFPBA), the union that represents LPD Patrol Officers, Sergeants and Lieutenants. This separate interview provided the candidates and the local union leadership an opportunity to discuss LPD issues and provide further insight as to their abilities to manage the Department.

The following day, each of the candidates met individually with the City Manager for a one-on-one interview.  Additional background checks involving references of the finalists were being secured concurrently throughout the interview process. 

The panel met again on December 17th to discuss the results of the candidate interviews with the City Manager, review the feedback received from the WCFPBA interviews and to review their collective recommendations regarding their top choice.  After assessing each of the finalists, the panel, the WCFPBA and the City Manager all concurred that the strongest candidate for the position consistent with the desired traits in the Competency Model was Lisa Womack. In doing so, the panel considered the background and reference checks to ensure a thorough understanding of her previous posts, including her then current responsibilities as Interim Assistant Police Chief with Arlington, TX. 

The interview panel specifically discussed her credentials, demonstrated performance and qualifications to serve, including feedback from both the former and current Elgin City Managers, an Elgin Councilmember and their Corporate Counsel, all of which confirmed that she left the City of Elgin in good standing.  Since that time, the City of Lakeland has reached out to representatives of the City of Elgin, IL and has received additional information on Womack that substantiates further that she left the community in good standing.

Additional background information was secured from the Chiefs of Police in Arlington and Sugarland, TX, and from the Executive Director of the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA), for which Womack serves as a Board Member.

Following her appointment, Chief Womack led the process that resulted in LPD regaining its CALEA national accreditation; the anticipated reaccreditation with the Commission on Florida Accreditation; reviewed LPD’s General Orders (rewriting 70 that better define higher levels of accountability for all LPD employees) and expanded the Department’s outreach to area stakeholders. 

It was also under her watch that an LPD Sergeant first reported the behavior that ultimately led to the revelations that have shocked the community.  Chief Womack immediately ordered investigations for all of those involved and she is holding LPD personnel accountable for their actions.