Struggling To Find The Next Generation

Struggling To Find The Next Generation
Posted by FoM on November 21, 2000 at 10:20:13 PT
By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY 
Source: USA Today 
Police departments across the nation, struggling to hire tens of thousands of new officers in a tight labor market, are having to wade through a depleted talent pool in which recruits are more likely than ever to have used drugs, to be out of shape and to lie about their pasts. From New York City to Phoenix, police officials say it's never been more difficult to find promising recruits. They blame a booming economy that has created higher-paying alternatives to police work, forcing recruiters to turn to candidates who in past years would have been rejected out of hand. 
That has led to unprecedented recruit washout rates at a time when police agencies are rushing to take advantage of the Clinton administration's six-year, $8 billion grant program aimed at putting 100,000 new cops on the street by the end of this year. The program will fall short of its goal — as of June about 68,000 officers had been hired or reassigned to patrol duty under the initiative — largely because of problems in recruiting enough qualified officers. Quick Question: Police hires A tight labor market is forcing many police agencies to hire recruits who may have lied about their pasts or used drugs. Does this depleted talent pool affect public safety? Yes No Latest results "Across the country, everybody is talking about the overall shrinking of the applicant pool," says Thomas Frazier, director of the Justice Department office that administers the grant program. "It is a major concern." Federal officials have extended the grant program for two years, so the pressure is still on departments to beef up their forces. But reports from several urban departments that have been particularly aggressive in pursuing new officers reveal some of the new challenges that recruiters are facing. In part, they also highlight continuing questions about how law enforcement should deal with post-boomer generations of recruits who increasingly are likely to have grown up experimenting not just with marijuana but with more addictive drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines. Large percentages of police candidates — from 30% in Chicago to nearly 80% in Baltimore — fail to become officers because they admit to recent drug use or are caught lying about drugs and other aspects of their lives. In Chicago and Baltimore, hundreds of applicants are eliminated each year because of such issues. Despite increasing numbers of applicants in Baltimore — from 1,800 in 1998 to 3,000 in 1999 — the city isn't finding it any easier to hire acceptable candidates. Across the country, rising washout rates have become particularly noticeable in the past six years, authorities say, as departments have intensified their efforts to fill additional jobs funded by the federal grants. A few police departments immediately disqualify candidates who report any past drug use. But most now have policies that acknowledge the impact of the drug culture and tolerate limited marijuana use if it took place several years before a candidate applied to be a police officer. Recruits who have used harder drugs are more likely to be rejected automatically. "As the years go by, the levels of drug use are growing all the time," Phoenix police Sgt. Gil Soto says. "We've had some people say, 'Well, it's just meth (methamphetamines).' Meth is a very dangerous drug." Soto estimates that about 70% of the hundreds who apply for Phoenix jobs each year have at least experimented with drugs. Although there are no comparable statistics, Soto believes the portion of drug-using applicants has increased in the past five years. Many of the failures on mandatory polygraph exams stem from questions about past or ongoing drug use, police say. Baltimore police Sgt. Sherina Long says that during a recent interview, a candidate flunked after admitting he had used marijuana the previous night "just to calm his nerves. At least he was honest about it." Phoenix recruiting officer Ron Meraz estimates that 30% to 50% of recruits in that city fail the polygraph test. "I think there are some people who think they can actually beat the background check," city personnel analyst Adele Luffey says. "It's amazing sometimes." More and more, police recruiters also say they are confronted with couch potatoes. In Chicago, where police estimate that one in 10 candidates actually make it through the recruiting process, officials say the number of candidates who are dropped because of drug-related issues is rising. But they say the largest portion of applicants they reject can't get past the department's basic agility requirements. "We're not talking outlandish, Olympic-qualifying events here," Chicago police Cmdr. Bill Powers says. "It's a mile-and-a-half run, some sit-ups and stretching. They even have time to prepare. That's what shocks me." Some Forces Lower Standards: In some cases, police officials are trying to increase the talent pool of recruits by lowering admission standards that were raised several years ago in an effort to improve the quality of officers. New York City's 40,000-officer police department, which this year fell about 300 hires short of filling 1,600 new academy positions, recently dropped its minimum age for recruits from 22 to 21. The department also is allowing some recruits to substitute work experience or the previously required two years of college. The changes in admission requirements have raised concerns that the department might be sacrificing quality in pursuit of warm bodies. "The public won't catch on (to the struggle to find police recruits) until it's too late," says Capt. John Driscoll, president of the local Captains Endowment Association , which represents supervisory-level officers. "Everything is nice as long as crime is down. But what happens when there aren't enough police to answer the calls?" Some police chiefs do not believe that lowering standards is the right approach. "I still believe our police officers should have to meet a higher standard," says Dave Kurz, police chief in tiny Durham, N.H., whose department's patrol force has increased from 15 to 18 because of the federal grant program. "That's more of a problem today because of the conduct that now passes as acceptable. What I do is try not to hire myself a problem." For police departments large and small, the stakes in recruiting qualified officers are huge. Recruiting decisions being made now likely will determine the quality of police work for years to come, says Elaine Deck, an analyst for the International Association of Chiefs of Police . The ongoing scandal involving Los Angeles police officers who are accused of fabricating evidence and committing other crimes has put a spotlight on that department's recruiting. Deck says recruiting and retaining officers has become a major concern among police executives, especially given the shortage of qualified candidates. For the past two years, Deck has hosted tutorials for about 300 police chiefs at IACP headquarters in Alexandria, Va., and elsewhere as law enforcement executives have struggled more and more to fill vacancies. "Almost everywhere I go — Texas, Georgia, South Dakota and New Hampshire — I hear the same thing," Deck says. "Police ask (applicants) if they've ever used drugs and the answer is: 'Of course.' Worse, if they don't admit to it, (police) find out in the background checks. A lot of chiefs are saying, 'These (applicants) are not from our planet.' " Like police in several cites, Phoenix recruiters have gone far out of town in their searches to fill openings. They have traveled throughout the West and Midwest — Seattle, El Paso, Colorado Springs, Gallup, N.M., Chicago and Oxnard, Calif. — usually testing about 75 prospects at each stop. Few Prospects Turn Up: In Oxnard one recent weekend, police officials hoped the presence of a U.S. naval base there would provide a target-rich environment for finding prospective cops. The good news: On test day, all but three applicants passed written and agility exams, the best passage rate of any out-of-state group Phoenix police have tested this year. The bad news: Only 22 applicants showed up, even after Phoenix had spent two weeks and thousands of dollars touting the recruiting effort in radio and newspaper ads in California. The only woman among the surviving 19 prospects was Katherine Beck, 27, an auto-parts delivery person from Simi Valley, Calif., who sported a silver nose ring and a T-shirt that read "You Suck." Beck acknowledged that she had been convicted on a drug offense in 1994, and arrested again three years ago for alleged public drunkenness. Beck wouldn't elaborate on her troubles with the law, or say what drug was involved in her conviction. Phoenix accepts applicants who say they have used marijuana 25 times or less and who have refrained from use for three years. Any LSD use is grounds for immediate disqualification. Cocaine is not, as long as applicants have not used since age 18. Another candidate, car salesman Pedro Leon, 56, had been fired by the U.S. Postal Service after several suspensions during a six-year government career. Leon says his career suffered because he filed numerous discrimination complaints. "It wasn't like I was shooting my supervisor or anything," Leon says. Phoenix recruiters had concerns about another recruit who had trouble filling out the application. In the space requesting a Social Security number, the applicant copied the number provided on the sample application form: 123-45-6789. Meraz and Luffey say they have seen worse: At another recruiting stop, they say, half the 75 people who took the written test — a mix of reading comprehension and observation (no math) — failed. In Chicago, where there is a need for about 650 new cops, concerns about recruits' character have led authorities to make unusually close inspections during the screening process. Three years ago, Chicago recruits' medical exams began to include hair follicle testing for drugs and tattoo screening to check for prior gang involvement. Cmdr. Powers said the hair tests detect any drug use in the past three months; urinalysis, by comparison, generally is reliable for detecting drug use only in the past 30 days. Chicago tolerates some experimental drug use: no more than three tries of marijuana, as long as the last puff was taken at least five years ago. Immediate disqualifiers are felony convictions and recent use of drugs such as cocaine, LSD and methamphetamines. During applicants' physical exams, Powers says, department physicians are instructed to note any tattoos, scars or other visible marks. Powers said the increased attention to physical exams started in 1997 because of an increase in gang activity. In most departments, including Chicago's, any past gang affiliation means automatic rejection. 'I'm Surprised I Passed' Despite her non-conformist appearance, Katherine Beck was, in the eyes of Phoenix recruiters, a good candidate for their police force. "I'm completely stoked," Beck said after receiving a score of 75.4 on the written test (70 is passing) and puffing through the required 1-1/2 mile run. "I'm completely surprised I passed." She added that she had been rejected by several California police agencies, including the California Highway Patrol. Over the next several weeks Beck, Leon and the other 17 top prospects Phoenix police identified at Oxnard will undergo background investigations and polygraph exams, the most intense scrutiny of the application process. If the typical washout rate holds, one — maybe two — will make the cut and be invited to Phoenix's police academy, where candidates are required to complete 15 weeks of training. But recruiter Meraz believes it's possible that up to five of the Oxnard prospects could make it to the academy. "This is the cheese," Meraz says of what he called one of his best recruiting trips this year. "I'm telling you, this is the cheese." Source: USA Today (US) Author: Kevin JohnsonPublished: November 21, 2000Copyright: 2000 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. Contact: editor Address: 1000 Wilson Blvd., Arlington VA 22229 Fax: (703) 247-3108 Website: CannabisNews Police Archives
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Comment #4 posted by dddd on November 24, 2000 at 05:00:42 PT
 Well spoken Bagpipe Dude. Think about it,,what kind of person would want to become a cop?It takes a certain type of hardnose,diciplined attitude to actually want to become a cop.Then after you go through the academy,or whatever,,,you have to go out and enforce absurd drug laws,and in the big city,you have to approach all kinds of strange situations,and unsavory characters.Then you have to deal with being hated,and/or feared by many people.You have to deal with the guilt of being responsible for ruining peoples lives,and futures. So to keep on,you have to harden yourself in a certain way,and you become a member of a sort of law enforcement club,or cult,and your co-workers become your closest friends,driving you further into an isolated state of mind,and an unavoidable feeling of having power over other people. It's kind of like an advanced sort of boy scout troop with guns....And on top of all this,your salary is probably about the same as a school teacher. It's just typical;instead of re-thinking,and reforming the ridiculous laws,the lawmaking demagogs just throw money at the situation to maintain their grip on freedom,and control of liberty....dddd
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Comment #3 posted by Bagpipe Dude on November 24, 2000 at 00:04:13 PT
Corruption is the Problem, not the Labor Market
I am simply amazed at the deficient mental capacity of the writer who wrote this "piece". It is CORRUPTION that causes people to steer clear of the law enforcment profession. It is not an honerable profession anymore. Simple as that. This issue is completly independent from any consideration of the "labor market". The simple fact is that corrupt officials are a required element of any prosperous criminal organization. If there is an especialy high level of illegal business going on, there are people at city hall who have an "arrangement" or "partnership" of some sort. Most often than not, these "friends" include various law officers. Unfortunatly, many of the new reqruits into Law Enforcement are attracted to the profession for the "extra compensation package not otherwise mentioned in writing.... nor reported to the IRS". It is realy that simple people. Perhaps, if the DOJ ever gets out of "loopback" we might win this war on Drugs. It is very easy.. Zero tolerance at City Hall. Utilize Half of the 40 Billion spent every year on the Drug War investigating City Hall, and Law Enforcement. Then and only then can the Government "win" the "war" on drugs. Easy as pie. Stop chasing street hustlers and small time distributers...Go after the Big Time Distributers, and their "friends" at City Hall. I would also like to see our Politicians quit taking money and/or free product from those who "like the market the way it is". 
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Comment #2 posted by Jane Brown on November 22, 2000 at 17:14:35 PT
Police Department = Rotten Apple Tree
There are not just a few rotten apples in America’s police departments, it’s a rotten apple tree. At least they are keeping all the rotten apples in one barrel: the police department. Many policemen are out on Patrol this very day with an itchy trigger finger just hoping to drop the hammer on a pot smoker, Black or Chicano.
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Comment #1 posted by freedom fighter on November 22, 2000 at 15:37:58 PT
An interesting note
If one could compare the numbers of wannabecops admitting to past drug use to the population of the United States of America, one could surmise that majority of us have at one time or another do drugs. I am glad that Clinton failed in getting his 100,000 piglets. America do not truly need 100,000 more piglets. We need 100,000 teachers.
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