The position became available after the firing of former chief Keith Schroeder following his suspension in April.

After announcing the job opening months ago, the Devils Lake City Commission is preparing to interview four candidates for the city’s vacant police chief position starting Monday.

Two sheriffs are among the four candidates: Steven Rohrer from Benson County and Barry Vannatta of Kidder County. Joseph Knowski, recently retired from the North Dakota Highway Patrol, and Lyle Sinclair, a sergeant with the Bismarck Police Dept., are the other two officers vying for the department’s top job.

The position became available after the firing of former chief Keith Schroeder following his suspension in April.

He, along with his second in command, Capt. Jon Barnett, were let go primarily due to an operations assessment report conducted by the city’s human resources liaison, in which DLPD officers complained about severe and ongoing leadership issues at the department.

As part of the settlement package between Schroeder and the city, the former chief stayed on the department’s payroll until July 31. Sgt. Jim Frank, with over three decades of experience at DLPD, has been serving as chief on an interim basis since the suspension was announced.

Mayor Richard Johnson, who was on the commission (though not as mayor) when Schroeder was hired in 2009, says that the problems with the former chief will inform the city’s approach to the interview process.

“I think it makes us all aware, at least myself, how important good, firm leadership, a strong structure is needed,” Johnson said. “Generally speaking, police officers are strong willed people. You have to be strong yourself, and maybe a step above that. That was, in my opinion, definitely lacking. You need that tough guy at the top.”

Johnson also says that, like police departments in other cities, community engagement is key to the job. He mentioned both the Grand Forks and Fargo police departments, which regularly hold “get to know you” community events.

Another focus, according to the mayor, will be cultivating a positive relationship with the media.

“From what I understand, media relations hasn’t been the best, and I think that’s important,” Johnson said. “They can be your best friend or worst enemy.”

One issue that came to light during the fallout from the disciplinary actions against Schroeder and Barnett was a lack of oversight at the commission level. Two years of Schroeder’s annual performance evaluations since his hiring were missing, and the evaluations of both Schroeder and Barnett that were completed failed to reflect the poor performance revealed by the operations assessment.

Johnson believes that the shaky state of oversight that came to light in the wake of the firings has motivated the commission to increase attention on their assigned responsibilities.

“Oversight is what we do. That’s what we’re elected to do,” Johnson said. “The commissioners have been more aware to stay on top of their department heads, be more engaged.”

Whether that increased attention will remain steady or level off after a new chief is hired is unknown, but Johnson thinks that the commission has learned from its past issues.

“We’re getting some new software, including evaluation software, at the city level as soon as the end of the year. Ours is antiquated,” Johnson said. “That’s only as good as the person entering the data into it, but I think a lesson has been learned (by) the commission. Whoever holds that portfolio has to be engaged in the activities.

“I think they know the deficiencies that were defined in the (operations assessment) report,” he added.

Three of the candidates, Knowski, Rohrer and Vannatta, will be interviewed starting at 9 a.m. Monday. No time or date has been set for Sinclair’s interview, though the mayor projected that it may happen on the 24th of this month. That, in his estimation, may lead to a decision being announced at the city’s regular meeting Sept. 5.

Whatever the outcome, Johnson stresses that not only will strong leadership, community outreach and media relations be evaluated, but also the candidates’ love for law enforcement.

“A passion for law enforcement is important,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if we had that.”