I am a little behind lately on reading some of the other 43 blogs I subscribe to. I was trying to catch up today when I ran across this post from Mario Burgos. In the post he talks about the nationwide trend of what some call a lowering of standards in police hiring. What triggered his post was an associated press article in last Mondays Albuquerque Journal (subscription required) in which the author describes what many departments are doing to increase hiring and fill positions.
Many departments (actually most departments) around the country are relaxing age and fitness standards, forgiving minor criminal convictions and easing other requirements to relieve shortages in their ranks and find officers who are wiser, more worldly and cooler-headed in a crisis.
I remember when I started in 1988 with the Santa Fe Police Department. I went in to take the written test along with a hundred or so other candidates. There were three openings in the department of around 70 officers from the Chief on down. The three who made through the written test, medical assessment, physical agility, polygraph, background check, and interview process were current City Police Captain Gary Johnson, now Retired Officer Nigel Bridger, and myself. The process was grueling and because there were so many applicants for so few positions the police department could be very picky in who they hired.
Most police officers who were hired back then were fresh out of the military like former 82cd Airborne officer Gary Johnson, I believe Nigel Bridger also came out of the military. I was 24 years old married 3 years and we had our first child on the way. The first two of my three siblings whom my wife and I raised after the death of my mother were out of the home. My brother on his own and my sister off to college. I had one sister left who if I remember right was probably about to be a freshman in high school. I was a Service Advisor at Santa Fe Mazda Volvo and had no medical benefits. I opened the paper and began looking for a job with retirement and benefits.
There was an ad for cops so I applied. I also took an aptitude test for the full time National Guard and about the same time I was going through the testing process for the police department I was considering a four year enlistment with a promised assignment at the Hawk Missile Battalion in Albuquerque. My specialty out of high school and my hobby to this day was computer sciences, now commonly called I.T. . I built my first computer, a Timex Sinclair Kit which was then sold by Heathkit when I was about 16. I always had a computer or two, or six in pieces around the house. Thus my M.O.S. of working on the computers at the Hawk Missile site.
Just days before I signed my life away to the military I got a call to meet with then Chief Raymond Sisneros and Deputy Chief Jimmy "juero" Salazar. I was offered the job and thus the choice between military and police was made. I go into this whole rambling on about this part of my life to get to a point. The point is I competed with around a hundred other applicants for three positions. Now we commonly get about 5- 10 applicants at a time and if we are lucky 2 or 3 make it past the initial testing and then 1 or 2 of these make it past the background checks. Back in my day " I feel old saying that expression", you could find some who did little or no experimentation with drugs and drank little alcohol. Believe it or not I never drank a full beer until halfway into my first year as an officer.
Now the pickings are slim and its almost impossible to find someone who has not experimented with drugs, and even quite a few applicants have had a D.W.I. in their past. I will not accept anyone who has had a D.W.I. within the past five years nor anyone who has had more than one. Even someone with one D.W.I. that is over five years old has to have an otherwise squeaky clean record. No one with any felony conviction will be hired. We are bound to minimum physical agility standards for new officers as they must attend the State run Police Academy and will not be accepted without passing minimum physical fitness and agility standards.
Experienced officers who have already passed the police academy enjoy a more relaxed physical agility standard. As I look at our limited pool of applicants I wonder is the relaxation of standards a really an attempt to relax standards or is it just a sign of the times? Like any business model when employee pools are high management can afford to be more picky in their hiring, when they are not you choose from the pool you have. The war in Iraq, the extra demands in Santa Fe and other social economic factors have greatly affected police hiring.
In Santa Fe you have the headquarters for the National Guard, the headquarters for the State police, The headquarters for State Corrections, the County Jail, City Police, and the Sheriff's Office among others all vying for the same personality of worker who would get involved in a military or law enforcement related career. This intense pressure on the employee pool puts Santa Fe at a loss in a job market that is having problems recruiting officers across the nation as it is. I have too admit that with a wider pool some who made the top of the list in the last few years hiring probably would not have in the eighty's but none the less we have a great staff at the Sheriff's Office and all make me proud everyday. As I have fired dozens of deputies over the years I will not hessitate to get rid of someone who does not work at the standards we demand. It is easy to point fingers and show disdain for what some call the relaxation of standards however those same people would point fingers at chiefs and sheriffs for not doing enough to hire more officers at times when those positions need to be filled.