The three finalists for Eau Claire’s next police chief are all local candidates — two already within the department and one from neighboring Altoona.
Deputy Chief Matt Rokus and Lieutenant Derek Thomas, who both work in the Eau Claire Police Department’s investigations and professional standards division, are finalists alongside Altoona Police Chief Kelly Bakken.
The trio were chosen last week by the Eau Claire Police and Fire Commission out of 11 applicants who responded to the city’s nationwide search for a new chief.
The commission, a panel of five citizen members, is scheduled to interview the finalists on Dec. 5 and could name a new chief that day.
“We hope to come to a conclusion after those interviews and make a job offer,” said Daniel Kincaid, chairman of the commission. However, he did not rule out the potential for a subsequent meeting if the commission needs more time to make its final decision.
Should one of the internal candidates be chosen, Kincaid said that person would be expected to take over as police chief in January. If the commission selects Bakken, Kincaid expects there would be some negotiation about her starting date to give adequate notice to her current employer.
Eau Claire’s new police chief would succeed Gerald Staniszewski, who announced in October that he intends to retire by the end of this year. Staniszewski was named chief in late 2013 and has been with the department for more than 28 years.
In early 2014, Rokus was named to the position that Staniszewski had held — one of two deputy chiefs in the department that are called upon to serve as its leader when the chief is unavailable.
Rokus has worked for the department for 23 years, starting as a patrol officer after graduating with a bachelor’s degree from UW-Eau Claire and rising in the ranks. He’s currently head of investigative and professional standards division, which encompasses the department’s investigative work, community outreach, training and hiring policies.
“It would be an honor to serve our community as Eau Claire’s next police chief. I look forward to meeting with the Police and Fire Commission to discuss my vision for our department,” Rokus said.
Thomas currently works as a lieutenant in the same division, specifically in the professional standards bureau.
He started his career as a police officer in Omro for one year, then three years at the Two Rivers Police Department before coming to Eau Claire where he’s spent the past 16 years progressing through different positions involving detective and patrol work.
“I am honored and humbled to be selected as a finalist in the Eau Claire police chief process. This police department is filled with great people that do great things for the City of Eau Claire,” Thomas said in an emailed statement to the Leader-Telegram.
Both he and Rokus opted not to talk in greater detail about their candidacy, out of deference to the commission’s interview and selection process.
Bakken is a relative newcomer to the area, having been hired in February to lead Altoona’s police department.
“It has been an honor and privilege to serve the Chippewa Valley, and I look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve the people of the Chippewa Valley in the future,” she said in a statement emailed to the Leader-Telegram on her candidacy for Eau Claire police chief.
She has worked in law enforcement for about 22 years and prior to coming to Altoona, she had been police chief in Black River Falls for a year and a half, according to a Leader-Telegram article.
If she is selected, it would make her the first female to be the city’s police chief, a position created in 1872.
The recent history of Eau Claire police chiefs has been people hired from within the department.
Staniszewski and his predecessors, Jerry Matysik, Pat McNally and Dave Malone were all promoted from within the Eau Claire Police Department. The last outsider hired was James McFarlane, who worked for the Madison Police Department before serving as Eau Claire’s police chief from 1978 to 1988, according to Leader-Telegram archives.
Though finalists for the current police chief search are all from this area, Kincaid said the search included advertisements in nationwide law enforcement journals and other places where potential candidates would be looking. In addition to others from Wisconsin, people from Illinois and Missouri also applied for the job, Kincaid said.
The salary range for the new police chief is $109,800 to $127,900, according to an advertisement for the job printed in the Leader-Telegram.