NORTH LIBERTY– The City of North Liberty has named its new chief of police.
Lt. Diane Venenga was chosen last week among a field of four final candidates culled from a national search orchestrated by Moulder and Associates LLC of Des Moines.
Venenga has been serving as the community’s interim police chief since the resignation of former chief Jim Warkentin in February. She was the second police officer hired into the North Liberty police department (NLPD) when it formed in 1999. Venenga said she wanted to be a police officer from the time she was 14 years old, when she joined the Des Moines Police Explorer program, a division of the Boy Scouts. She engaged in ride-alongs, national conferences and training in all areas of police and rose through the leadership ranks of the program. Following high school, she attended the University of Northern Iowa, earning a BA in criminology and political science, and completed an internship with the Cedar Falls police department. After graduation she was certified through the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA). Upon completion of the ILEA program, she worked for four months in the Black Hawk County jail, and then the Cedar Falls police department offered her a job as a patrol officer, where she served for three years until she heard about the opportunity at North Liberty’s new police department.
“In that day and age, you did not hear about brand new, start-up police departments, and I realized it was a huge opportunity,” said Venenga, so she and her husband moved to North Liberty 14 years ago.
When Warkentin resigned, it fell to North Liberty Mayor Tom Salm to appoint his replacement. Salm was prepared to appoint Venegna, who had already been NPLD’s second-in-command, but Venenga suggested the city conduct a candidate search in order to determine the best person for the position.
“I think that shows a lot of integrity on her part,” said Salm. Consultants from Moulder and Associates launched the search in April, interviewing members of the community about desired qualities in a police chief, and casting the net nationwide to advertise the opening. Fifty applicants responded, from as far away as Alaska. Those applicants were narrowed to 11, and finally whittled to four. Final interviews were conducted with each candidate on Sept. 13, first with small council groups, and then with a professional panel that included law enforcement personnel from Coralville, North Liberty and Johnson County, and North Liberty department heads who work closely with the NLPD.
Venenga said it was a beneficial process for her.
“Going through this process forced me to take time to think about my character, competencies, and ability to lead an organization,” said Venenga. “It made me want to be the best leader I could be and do what is right for this department and the community.”
She also said the candidate search enabled city leaders to see what was available from the outside candidates.
“It helped them rank the traits and qualities they were wanting in a public safety official, the end goal being the best fit for everyone involved,” Venenga said.
Salm also found the candidate search helpful in sev
“During the interview process in particular, we had several representatives from other law enforcement groups here who had done their research on North Liberty and took tours of the police department,” Salm said. “In talking with those individuals, some made suggestions on things we may want to take a look at, things we may want to change or improve. We were listening to those things. It sparked a lot of thinking and planning.”
Venega said she has had some specific ideas for improvement already on her list.
“Things that come to mind is our shoulder patch, consistent uniforms, adding additional personnel and supervisor positions,” said Venegna. “I do not foresee a huge change in the street operation or visibility of officers. We will set the priorities for what we want to improve, include feedback from the community, and continue to provided cost effective services.”
Venenga said the NLPD will adapt as the population continues to increase.
“We will continue to make changes in our everyday policing. As the town grows, new needs or concerns are raised and this department will do its best to grow with the changes,” she said. “Staying ahead of criminal element will always be something we will strive to improve upon through training and education. There is also the focus to make sure officers are accessible, approachable and competent in all areas of law enforcement. We need to specialize in overall problem solving and not every situation is going to fit the same solution.”
All growing communities must develop strategies to combat crimes when they see trends on the rise, she added.
“This will be something we will need to focus on and try to predict future developments. Policing is always changing, with court decisions, new laws, new technology, and new crimes that emerge. This department will have to continue to grow with those demands,” Venega said.
Salm, who recommended hiring Venegna at the city council meeting Sept. 24, said it was Venenga’s insight about future improvements was one thing that made her a stand-out candidate.
“We know what she can do, and she knows the areas she wants to improve on. That was an important factor,” said Salm. “All the other candidates were top notch, and during the interviews, it was easy to share the positives, but it’s harder to anticipate areas they need to improve on. With Diane, we know what we have. We have been really happy with what she has done, and she really did rank up at the top.”
Salm said as interim chief, Venega showed her dedication by attending a lot of outside meetings that had previously not been attended by NLPD personnel, such as those with the Johnson County Emergency Management Agency or the Joint Emergency Communications Center user meetings.
“She has been out in the public, she is more visible, her reports are very thorough and detailed,” said Salm. “Diane takes care of business nonstop. She is very dedicated.”