Police departments around the country are relaxing some of the more unreasonable hiring disqualifiers in an effort to bolster the force- an act of necessity in an era where the desire to be a police officer seems to be at an all-time low.
Previous disqualifiers such as prior marijuana use, credit history and lack of a college degree have traditionally kept many applicants from joining law enforcement departments across the country, often depriving departments of new perspectives, experiences, skills and diversity.
“We have a national crisis,” said former New York City police officer and college lecturer Eugene O’Donnell. “For the first time in my life, I would say I could never recommend the job. Who’s going to put on a camera, go into urban America where people are going to critique every move you make? You’re going to be demonized.”
While each state ultimately determines how police officers in their jurisdictions are hired, the general requirements involve past drug use, education, run-ins with the law, physical fitness and credit history.
However, in a country where roughly 44% of Americans have admitted to trying marijuana at some point in their lives, the pool of applicants shrinks greatly. Factoring in credit history can negatively affect minorities and education requirements can hinder entry for people in smaller towns. Add all of that to many departments’ trends of not fronting the money to send new officers to the academy (often only accepting lateral transfers), and a troubling picture begins to emerge for a line of work that many officers wouldn’t even wish upon their children.
“Hiring is particularly problematic in this environment we live in,” said executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum Chuck Wexler. “I’ve been in a room with a large group of police … I’ve asked how many of you would like your son or daughter to be a police officer, and no one raises their hand.”
According to NBC Connecticut, some departments are balancing the desire for barred applicants to join the ranks while realizing that being a police officer is an undesirable job for most.
In Kansas, Wichita Police Department Chief Gordon Ramsay says relaxing the standards will help officers relate more to the people they encounter on a daily basis.
“People who have struggled in life… can relate better to the people we deal with,” Ramsay said. “My experience is they display more empathy.”
The Baltimore Police Commissioner calls marijuana usage -generally within a three-year-span- “the number one disqualifier for police applicants.”
As the work of law enforcement becomes more challenging, many departments are taking the bold step forward to change with the times- seeking a new type of lawman to handle a more modern, complex society where the police officer often is viewed with disdain and suspicion.
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