Home Crisis Management Questionable Police Reform: New Orleans PD Axes Education Requirement

Questionable Police Reform: New Orleans PD Axes Education Requirement

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By Leischen Stelter

The New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) no longer has a higher education requirement for recruits. The change, effective Feb. 9, was sought by Police Superintendent Michael Harrison, who said that the agency could fill open positions more quickly if it eliminated an education mandate that requires recruits to have 60 hours of college credit or two years of military experience, reported the New Orleans Advocate.

Harrison said that last year the department had 3,000 applications, but only 3 percent of them made it to the training phase. Another 1,000 applicants were turned away before being considered because they did not meet the education requirement. Currently the agency is understaffed and intends to hire nearly 450 officers, from 1,158 current officers to 1,600, said Harrison.

The State of NOPD
In July 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the most sweeping police reform program ever enacted by the Justice Department to overhaul the NOPD. This program aimed to resolve allegations that New Orleans police officers engaged in a pattern of discriminatory and unconstitutional activity by revamping the department’s policies and procedures for use of force, training, interrogations, searches and arrests, recruitment, and supervision.

Police arresting suspectSo what does the DOJ think about NOPD’s latest move? According to the newspaper, the DOJ has expressed concern that eliminating the education requirement could reduce the quality of recruits, but has not taken a formal position.

The article notes that when the department initially approved the education requirement in 2010, it used literature and research to support the benefits of employing officers with a college education. That research hasn’t just disappeared.

Research conducted by Jason Rydberg and Dr. William Terrill from Michigan State University provides evidence that having a college degree significantly reduces the likelihood that officers will use force as their first option to gain compliance. The study also discovered evidence that educated officers demonstrate greater levels of creativity and problem-solving skills​, wrote Mark Bond, criminal justice faculty at American Military University (AMU).

“A formal education teaches critical-thinking and problem-solving skills,” said Dr. Chuck Russo, program director of criminal justice at AMU. “These are vital to officers on the street and those involved with community policing, especially since discretion plays such a large part in officer-citizen contacts. The policy and procedure books agencies use can only cover so many situations and scenarios—the rest is up to the individual officer.”

The Benefits of Educated Officers
Many police chiefs seek out educated officers because it makes the agency stronger. For example, Chief Joel Hurliman has spent his 37-year police career with the Shelton Police Department in Connecticut and has been the chief since 2006. His department does not have an education requirement, but candidates with a four-year degree are preferred. “Studies have found that officers who have achieved a four-year degree have lower discipline rates statistically,” Hurliman said.

He puts a lot of weight on education, personally and professionally. He holds two master’s degrees and strongly encourages his officers to further their own education. In total, 24 of his 50 officers have a degree, with several others working towards it.

One of the greatest advantages of having educated officers is that they often have very strong writing skills. “Writing reports is a basic part of the job and it goes all the way to the top,” Hurliman said. He added that a degree also demonstrates self-discipline and a solid work ethic: “People with degrees are finishers. We’re not going to have to chase them around to finish a report.”

So wouldn’t NOPD, which is under federal reform because of its officers’ poor performance and actions, want to reduce the likelihood of such incidents by hiring educated officers who are more likely to make better decisions, have fewer discipline issues, and show stronger work ethic?

Unfortunately, the situation in New Orleans could actually get worse: Now that the education requirement for recruits has been eliminated, there is now a push to get rid of all education mandates within the command structure so no one in the organization will be required to have a higher education. Eliminating education from the equation is not the path to successful reform.

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  1. i spent just over 5 of my 29 years, serving the citizens of Philadelphia, in the Background Investigations Unit. As a supervisor, I helped to enact several policy changes that helped our department streamline our hiring process.
    Currently, Philadelphia ditched the actual competitive examination, a violation of the City Charter, in exchange for an application only entry process. The Department still requires 60 credits of college or military service as a prerequisite. But, I hear they will soon do away with that also. This will leave Philadelphia with an application only hiring process. The only major city to do so. The city is having major difficulty filling classes bigger than 30 recruits at a time as hundreds of current officers are due to exit employment with the department. The City extended the eligibility of officers by a year so that experienced officers would be around as the city tries to catch up with the overly high attrition rate. Stay tuned to see if the hurried hiring backfires 5-10 years down the road with increased officer misconduct cases due to questionable candidates sneaking through the process.
    More stringent standards have been traded in, in exchange for targeted candidates. Those candidates will be eligible with the new standards.
    Philadelphia is also subject to policy adjustments after undergoing a voluntary review by Eric Holder’s hand picked board. It appears they are trying to remove the ‘crime fighting’ attitude from police departments across the country. They are thereby removing any chance of Officers having any type of confrontation with civilians.
    Philadelphia has had Community Policing as part of its process and training since the late 1980’s. I was part of a group of officers that underwent a training program overseen by Sister Carol Keck of the Norris Square Community Group. Sister Carol not only provided us with special classroom training, but also introduced us to families with which we shared dinner. We attended roughly over several hundred drug vigils in East Police Division interacting with many anti-drug activists.
    This program was very successful, but when you look at how politicians like Arlen Spector and Michael Baylson twisted these programs to promote themselves, you know why it failed. Politics is clearly what is driving this renewal of a failed program from the 1980’s. It’s being repackaged as something that will ‘make things better’. The powers that be are looking to put the street cops, the crime fighters, out to pasture. They want huggers that will not argue with the public, protesters OR criminals. They want these officers to ‘feel for’ the criminals. To pay their hands to tell them everything will be ok. This is reminiscent of the film,’Demolition Man’ with Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes. If the suggested changes are put into place and the Hillary Clinton,’Hug a Criminal’ mindset is put in place, God help us all.
    These changes are based on a flawed review of statistical information. They are looking to compare the wrong variables creating an appearance of higher rates of confrontation. This can be corrected, but the chances for that are slim to none because politics are a part of this equation.
    The changes that will occur are similar, but on a smaller scale, to what will happen in Philaddlphia. Stay tuned because the jury is still out. There are questionable motivations for these programs that are heavily laden in politics. We can only hope the result won’t destroy crime fighting or make it a thing of crime stories and novels.

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