Police departments in Pennsylvania are struggling to recruit cadets after the pandemic and protests in the summer of 2020 over police brutality in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Now state officials are working to make police training an option for more people.
The state House passed legislation last week that would lower the minimum eligibility standard for a potential recruit to be accepted into a police academy. But not everyone thinks this is a good move.
The intent of the bill is to end the shortfall that Gov. Josh Shapiro identified at 1,200 state employees during his budget address in March, said its primary sponsor, Congressman Dan Williams (D-Chester).
“One of the biggest dangers to citizens as well as law enforcement officers is not having enough officers,” Williams said during a debate before the bill passed Nov. 14 with 115-88 vote. The bill now goes to the state Senate for consideration.
Civil rights groups say the solution is not in the quantity of officers but in the quality, calling for reforms in how officers are trained to work with people in mental health crisis, for example.
House Bill 863 will lower the minimum fitness level for police academy recruits from the 30th percentile to the 15th percentile of performance on standard physical fitness assessmentwhich includes a 1½-mile run, 300-meter sprint, push-ups, and pull-ups.
To graduate from the police academy, a cadet must improve their physical fitness to reach the 30th percentile of performance. It would also change the reading comprehension standard to allow local police departments to submit their own reading tests to the state for review.
Rep. Barry Jozwiak (R-Berks) was among those voting against the bill, all of whom were Republicans. As the House representative on the Municipal Police Training and Education Committee (MPOTEC), Jozwiak said changing the fitness and reading standards is a bad idea. MPOTEC issues the state police academy and firearms training curricula.
“Society expects police officers to be the best of the best, at least better than the average citizen,” Jozwiak said. “To achieve this, we have set high standards in our police academies, expecting to graduate the best cadets and give applicants the best chance of success.”
Jozwiak noted that fitness standards had already been lowered from the 50th percentile to the 30th percentile a few years ago.
And when a police department decides to sponsor a recruit in training, he said, it has already invested significant resources in vetting applicants through background checks.
MPOTEC’s police academy curriculum requires cadets to maintain the 30th percentile during the academy’s five months, with the first assessment a month later, Jozwiak said. He said fitness training instructors say it would be impossible for a person to improve from the 15th to the 30th percentile in a month.
“The entry requirements are meant to keep people from wasting your time and money trying to do something they’re not ready to do or won’t be allowed to do,” Jozwiak said.
The Shapiro administration and the Pennsylvania State Police, which oversees MPOTEC, support finding solutions to alleviate the shortage of municipal police officers, the state police said in a statement released by its press office.
“The administration supports relaxing physical fitness requirements to allow more qualified applicants to enter municipal police academies, where they can receive training to meet the physical fitness standards required to become police officers,” the statement said. the statement.
Shapiro has taken other measures to improve recruiting for state police and local police departments. In one of his first acts as governor, Shapiro eliminated the college education requirement for thousands of state jobs, including the state police.
Admin Shapiro waives college requirements for state police cadets
This year’s budget proposal includes a $2,500 tax credit to encourage young people to consider careers in law enforcement and other important front-line occupations in which interest has waned.
Marcia Cole, director of the Criminal Justice Training Center at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, agreed that lowering eligibility standards could lead to a waste of resources if recruits drop out because they are unable to meet eligibility standards.
“If someone comes into the academy in decent shape, they have a better chance of graduating,” Cole said, adding that they’re less likely to get injured.
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