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In order to attract more applicants into the police force; police departments are dropping their standards for accepting recruits. They are lowering educational requirements as well as forgiving some prior drug use. In an age where police officers are under intense public scrutiny; where they face the possibility of being killed on the job; have high physical demands and low pay, there has been a decreased interest in joining the force.

“We have a national crisis,” stated Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York City police officer and current lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “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.”

The requirements for becoming an officer are determined by each state; there are no national standards. In the past; the prior use of drugs or any criminal activity (however minor) has been sufficient to deny individuals from becoming officers. Not to mention the physical fitness standards required in order to graduate from the academy as well as post-grad background checks that can include a credit-history review.

The hiring of women has been affected by the physical requirements. Other minorities have been affected by educational standards and credit histories. Considering police departments are trying to diversify the force; many are questioning whether the age-old military-style standards are feasible means for attracting officers who are capable of relating to the communities and easing tensions.

A report released last month by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission praised police departments who have changed testing requirements proven to disproportionately disqualify minority candidates.

The report states that individuals from minority communities are more likely to have contact with the criminal justice system as well as lower credit scores; therefore, they are more likely to fail criminal background and credit checks. As per the report, minorities may also have difficulty with written test that do not screen individuals correctly for the skills required to be an officer.

A survey conducted in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Justice revealed that approximately 12 percent of the nation’s officers were black and 12 percent were Hispanic. Although these percentages were greater than they were 30 years ago; according to the department, minorities are still underrepresented in many communities.

Most police departments do not hire individuals who admit to having used cannabis during the previous three year period. However; the Baltimore commissioner (where riots took place following the death of a black male during transportation in a police vehicle), is attempting to change these rules calling it “the number one disqualifier for police applicants.”

“I don’t want to hire altar boys to be police officers, necessarily,” Davis told The Baltimore Sun. “I want people of good character, of good moral character, but I want people who have lived a life just like everybody else – a life not unlike the lives of the people who they are going to be interacting with every day.”

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