PORTLAND – Candidates to be Portland’s next police chief will have to demonstrate their ability through a series of exercises that will be evaluated by an outside firm.

City Manager Mark Rees plans to hire an assessment resource center to evaluate finalists for the job of leading the state’s largest municipal police force — a common practice in his home state of Massachusetts but novel in Maine.

“You put your candidates in as real-life situations as possible and have those exercises evaluated by peers,” Rees said.

For example, candidates will have to demonstrate their skills in budgeting, handling thorny personnel matters, dealing with the media and overseeing tactical situations, he said.

The city is seeking a replacement for James Craig, who left in August to become police chief in Cincinnati. The city has already received 31 applications, and the deadline for applications is Oct. 28.

At least two Portland police officials, Assistant Chief Michael Sauschuck, who is serving as interim chief, and Cmdr. Vern Malloch, who oversees the patrol division, have expressed interest in the job.

Although some city officials — including Craig before he left — have called for Rees to focus his search on internal candidates, the city manager said he is doing an open, national search to ensure that he identifies the best possible candidate.

The names of the applicants will be kept confidential, Rees said, to encourage the broadest participation. Some candidates might be reluctant to apply if their employers were to be alerted that they were looking for a new job, he said.

The city’s staff will review applications and winnow the field to about a half-dozen candidates who will participate in the assessment center process and interviews with community members.

The assessment center’s report won’t outsource the selection process, Rees said. Instead, each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses will be noted for him to consider, and candidates will get a chance to respond to the assessment.

The city has requested proposals but has not selected an assessment firm.

The assessment results will be combined with the results of interviews by a panel of community members and city officials and presented to Rees, who will determine which candidates will be invited for final interviews.

The interview panel members may not know about the intricacies of police work but they do know how police interact with the community, Rees said.

“Police departments are no longer just driving around in cruisers responding to 911 calls. They’re far more proactive and community-oriented.”

Portland’s next police chief won’t just maintain law and order, but will interact with social service agencies and the city’s immigrant communities, he said.

One of the panel members, Portland Community Chamber of Commerce President Michael Bourque, said selecting a police chief is important beyond the city’s borders because the person often sets a tone for law enforcement throughout the state.

Bourque, a vice president with the workers compensation insurer MEMIC, said he is impressed by the range of experience on the interview panel.

“I think I represent folks in the business community who, like any taxpaying person, has an interest in what we want from our police chief and from our police department in general,” he said.

Rees said he hopes to have a new chief appointed by January.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]