Case Study: How the 'best recruit video' found the perfect chief

The viral video was just the beginning of what would become a nearly six-month hiring process that would end with the selection of Lee Dobrowolski as Hillsboro's soon-to-be police chief

In August, the Hillsboro (Ore.) Police Department released an elaborate recruit video in search of a new leader. We’ve seen plenty of police recruit videos at Police1, but never to recruit a police chief. Moreover, it’s reasonable to suggest that never has one been so well-executed. A huge majority of our online police community agreed: this was the best recruit video ever


The viral video was just the beginning of what would become a nearly six-month hiring process to select the perfect chief.  The town scoured for men and women whose qualities fit with the town’s unique needs. 

Mission accomplished? It may still be too early to tell — the newly appointed police chief will be sworn in February 3, 2014 — but the amount of effort put in by the town has yielded an admirably optimistic outcome. Hillsboro is proud to announce Lee Dobrowolski as their soon-to-be police chief.

A Video in the Making
Hillsboro Lieutenants Henry Reimann and Mike Rouches met with City Manager Michael Brown to talk about executing a national search for a new chief.

“Being as unique of a town as we are, in the tech hub that is the Northwest, we wanted to do something different,” said Reimann. And so, the idea for the video was born. 

“We did an assessment of the department earlier when we wrote up the job description; the qualities in the description were the ones our organization felt was important in a chief. Everyone had their input.”

The department hired outside help to produce the video, and in two weeks, it was ready for its YouTube debut. 

Meanwhile, in Utah…
Salt Lake City Deputy Chief Lee Dobrowolski was made aware of the search for a police chief by a head hunting company who reached out to him. Already a lover of the Pacific Northwest, Dobrowolski decided to look further into the town. 

“When I was in the reserve, I was deployed to Portland where I worked with the National Guard helicopter rescue unit. It was the first time I’d been there – I spent three weeks there and told my wife, ‘We’re going to live there someday,’” said Dobrowolski. 

That night he came across the recruit video while researching Hillsboro PD. 

“[The video] was hilarious. But more importantly — I’ve met so many police chiefs from across the country – and we tend to take ourselves too seriously. I know we have to project professionalism in this role, but I saw that video and thought, ‘Wow, this city doesn’t take itself too seriously,’ and that was interesting.”

The Elimination Process
Hillsboro is a unique and sought-after town in that its 93,000-residents have continued to thrive despite the recession. Several large development projects are currently taking root, creating an opportunity for a new chief to really spread his or her wings. 

Hillsboro PD received 62 applications for the position of police chief, which quickly dwindled down to an outstanding 17, thanks to Waldron, the head hunting company that assisted with the search.

The 17 applicants left standing conducted interviews with police department members via Skype, which the city manager then reduced down to five applicants, who travelled to Hillsboro for the next round of interviews with a panel of department employees, community stakeholders, and department heads. 

“They sent a team of eight people to Salt Lake to do a background check on me, which was very significant, in my opinion,” said Dobrowolski, “because it showed that they were willing to put an effort into getting what they wanted. They talked to everybody: the mayor’s office, town council, local universities and colleges, religious organizations, youth groups. They picked and chose who they wanted to speak with.”

On his second visit to Hillsboro, Dobrowolski was taken on a two-hour ride along before meeting with the city manager and taking part in three separate Q&A forums with the command staff, civilian employees, and the general public. 

“We had a night where the public could come and meet the remaining three candidates and ask their questions, and the next day the candidates met the members of the police organization so that they had their input,” said Reimann.

And Then There Was One 
“We were looking for someone with the ability to lead versus the ability to manage, and to be creative in how they approached things, especially when it comes to expansion — both of our town, our department and our community,” said Reimann.

“Lee was the guy who represented himself the strongest in the capabilities we were looking for. When we did background checks we discovered he wasn’t just talking the talk. When we did department-wide interviews, he really sold himself to the troops. The hardest part is deciding who is the best fit in that time and place, and I know he’s the guy.”

A week later, Dobrowolski received a call from Brown congratulating him for winning the hearts of Hillsboro and being named police chief. 

“One thing I learned during the forums is that they’re ready to have a chief,” said Dobrowolski. “It’s been nine months and they’re ready for a leader, and that’s exciting to me. I’m ready to meet them, hear their concerns, and move forward with them.”

Advice for Future Recruiters
One of the most difficult challenges Reimann and his colleagues came across during the interview process was how to involve the whole police community in the decision-making. 

“Everyone wanted to be a part of the process, but you can’t have 200 people involved,” said Reimann. 

The open forum satisfied the throngs of employees eager to meet the candidates, and the department decided to have a lottery drawing where several employees were selected to have lunch with the candidates. 

“My advice is to develop a process that is a mirror of what your organization is and wants to be. I’ve had a fortunate career working many different ranks, and we have a tendency to follow a very rigid system and I think we can get out of that,” said Reimann.

“Let you hair down and enjoy the process. I absolutely enjoyed it. I had great partners; our HR was great working hand-in-hand with us. It wasn’t ever stressful; it is what you make of it." 

Dobrowolski’s first day as Hillsboro’s police chief is February 3, 2014. Good luck, Chief! 

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