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Monday, April 2, 2007

Cops straight out of high school?

Now that every cop in Portland over age 50 is doing the smart thing and taking his or her obscenely cushy retirement, the force appears to be hard up for bodies. So they're proposing to lower the minimum educational requirements for being a police officer -- once a college degree -- from the current two years of college to a high school equivalency diploma.

Geez, even the NBA is making kids go to college for a year nowadays. Not mature enough to shoot the pro three-pointer, but mature enough to have a license to kill? Sounds like a recipe for more of this.

Comments (38)

Dumming Down of PPD, great news. Will the new requirement be that chewing gum while writing a ticket will be a mandated part of testing? Maybe the PPD should look to the south for recruits and tickets will be written in Espanol.
Well as Stanford points out so many times, over the years being a Portland Police officer hasn't been the most prestigious job. Now I hope they make a change to cowboy hats for our new generation.

What's the problem? According to his transcripts, mayor Tom Potter bearly graduated from high school but had no problem joining the police bureau. Of course he had to get some college to be assigned off street patrol by becoming a bureau PR mouthpiece.

Yeah, Jack, this is a documented fact.

Using Potter as an example might not be a great idea.

Yeah as someone who's already concerned about the mentality of many of the officers around here, this sucks.

"...Tom Potter bearly graduated from high school..."

That should be "barely"

Since when did a college degree confer maturity or character? This is beside the point.

If this is being done because they don't have enough applicants, and these non-college applicants will still go through the same training and psychological evaluation, then the question becomes: would you rather have a fully-staffed force that might not have degrees, or would you rather the PPB be understaffed and response times to emergencies go up?

To those who think that one must have a college degree to be a rational human capable of enlightened understanding, I'd like to point out that George W. Bush holds a MBA from Harvard.

I bet Humphries and Nice both have degrees, probably even a BA or BS.

Cops deal with (mostly) societal scum ALL day long, every day. Criminals, gun, drugs speak of only type of education and that is street education. A Police Officer must be smart, yes but they must also posses patience, integrity, maturity, compassion and general people skills. Do you get those skills in college? Didn't think so.

If anything, I would suggest a person WITHOUT a degree would be better suited for dealing with said criminals.

"better suited for dealing with said criminals."

There we go. Surely part of the problem with overzealous (to put it politely) policing is the police assumption that the people they are dealing with in the moment are societal scum, and all. However much their experience promotes and supports this attitude, it involves a presumption that goes against a basic constitutional and societal principle that used to prevail in this country.

I just finished reading David Simon's fantastic nonfiction book, "Homicide" (on which the old NBC TV show was directly based and the inspiration for Simon's HBO series, "The Wire," perhaps the best show on TV). What separates the good detectives from the bad in Simon's book is nothing that they learn in college but how they approach their jobs. It's the desire to be the best detective they can be, and it's surprising how many different motivations can cause that fire to burn inside of different detectives. That desire is a trait that does not stem from educational background, but solely from within.

Give me a cop who has a burning desire to be a good cop and I'll take him any day regardless of whether he has a college degree.

All fairy tales should begin with " once upon a time".

When cops take orders from a political machine comprised of "societal scum", they need something to help them develop critical thinking skills. It seems to me that Rosie's call for "compassion" over book learning is a confirming that she and her ilk want yes men and women, not thinkers on the force.

I'm thinking two things here:

1. Ignoring the image of beer-swilling college party kids, there is a definite increase in maturity between ages 18 and 22.

2. Exposure to a more diverse cohort of people at college *may* be an advantage to a police officer in the most diverse city in the state.

The way this was explained to me is that it's a way to hire good candidates with life experience other than college, i.e. veterans, laterals from other departments, etc. As an officer with a degree, I like the requirement as it is. However, I see how it keeps the bureau from picking up some very good recruits who may not have had the opportunity to go to college. One benefit of the college requirement (my opinion only) is that most of the new hires were nearing their mid-20's before they got on, so they had a little maturity and could relate to the folks they were policing. I see the abuse some of the baby face’s take from guys who have been in prison longer than the cop arresting them has been out of diapers, and it's painful to watch. Additionally, the community we police is quite highly educated for the most part, and can sometimes be a bit arrogant and condescending when dealing with what they consider a "dumb bluecoat." Knowing what I did before this job and that my credentials are solid kind of makes it easier to smile when treated like a slack-jawed necessary evil.

I think we're talking about two different things here. Some people are debating the usefulness of college degrees themselves, questioning whether they "confer maturity or character" (as Carol aptly put it). Others are focusing on the age factor -- if allowing recent high school grads to be "qualified" is such a wise decision. Both have points, but they're different points.

I'm of the opinion that college does not magically make people more reasonable (though I still hold out hope for some people). At the same time, I am not in favor of "kids" policing the streets (though we certainly trust them in policing the world - Exhibit A = Middle East). So what is the solution?

I didn't even realize that a degree wasn't required to be a police officer (in Portland). It doesn't seem unreasonable to expect a law enforcement official to have taken two years of criminal justice classes to have an understanding of the basic system s/he serves. But even just two years of college means (if there isn't an age requirement) some 19 and 20 year olds are "qualified." I don't know about y'all, but that makes me a little uncomfortable (and I am a 20-something).

Minimum age is 21, don't see anything changing there.

Why would anyone want to become a cop in Portland?

Everyone hates them. They can never do anything right. When was the last time you heard about a cop using just the right amount of force? You are constantly under threat of lawsuits. You have to deal with a politicized bureaucracy. And you make next to nothing, unless you bill a ton of overtime.
To reference the David Simon bit above, "Red turns to Black by way of Green."

Speaking of Simon & cops, last time I checked you only had a 1:6 chance of getting convicted of murder in Baltimore. Is that what you want for Portland? I think those of you championing Anarchy will be unpleasantly surprised. We tried Anarchy before, it was called the Dark Ages.

Let us see. You hate cops. You want to sue cops. You complain when no one wants to be a cop and they have to lower their hiring requirements.
Don't worry, your hate is politically correct hate.

JP, thanks for the clarification.

Your earlier post confirmed what I suspected -- that this may be a move to be more welcoming of experienced veterans (without degrees) who might consider transfering.

Are you able to share what kind of a response colleagues have had towards this proposed change?


Thanks for your perspective. Can you get any fellow officers to contribute to this discussion?


I sure as heck don't want Portland to be anything like Baltimore - not sure how anyone could possibly infer that from my post. I'm also not sure how anyone who read "Homicide" could place the blame for Baltimore's murder rate at the feet of the detectives, which was the point of my post. The detectives Simon wrote about were on the whole tough, intelligent, and motivated guys, and those are the three primary traits I'd like to see in any PDX cop. A college degree is not a necessary indicator for those three.

Sadly, my rule is to avoid the police whenever possible. I'm not a crook or a thief or lowly scum, but I recognize that I'm initially thought of by police as such simply because I exist in the jurisdiction. I have two personal experiences that support this view. However, I am compelled to admit that the wonderful officer who came by my house recently to drive off the hooker and her John parked out front was very nice and quite helpful. And I appreciate the officer who paid my asking price for my house. But, I'll just stay out of their way as much as possible and hope that I'm never in such a state that I can't negotiate coherently with an officer should I come in contact with one.

P.S. I welcome retired military as police officers. And teachers.

Great idea to ask police to contribute to this thread.

You should be glad that anyone is willing to police Portland, high school or no. Sure the retirement is nice but it is pretty much par for the course working in law enforcement in a good sized agency. You have to make it to retirement in a city that is openly hostile to law enforcement. Not worth the heartache IMHO.

When I finished my advanced degree and was looking for a job in law enforcement I left Portland.

Our esteemed president has an advanced degree from an esteemed institution. He is not capable of running a country or turning on a siren.

You should be glad that anyone is willing to police Portland, high school or no.

Give me a break. You work 'til you're 50, with no chance of ever being called out for your screwups (even the fatal ones), and then you're set for life. It's dirty and dangerous, but I'd hardly call it a job no one would want.

The paragraph by JP is a model of how to comment on and contribute to a blog, and ought to be taught in America's high schools. And just maybe even America's colleges.

Also, it's been a long time coming, but I knew sooner or later David Simon and The Wire would get some love around here. Talent will out. Believe.

Further, there is a fairly high risk of error when extrapolating public policy positions from personal experiences. Still, 12 years on the force hardly spared Anthony Abbate his career-defining performance here in Chicago, and one wonders if it is a lack of classwork that he is bemoaning today. He has, as superintendent Phil Cline recently said, "tarnished our image worse than anybody else in the history of the department."

But to the point: After he received notification from the Army that he was to ship out to Iraq, my brother said that he simply couldn't sleep at night. Not too surprising. But what was surprising was that, even though he has a wife and two children, what tied him up in knots and kept him staring at the ceiling all night was the danger that he might really one day be personally responsible for hurting an innocent person. And I know that that remains his single greatest fear. Irrespective of my opinion that the war is a travesty and a fiasco, and irrespective of the merits of higher education, that is exactly the kind of person I want to wear a uniform that represents me. Find me those men and women. Everything else can be taught.

Do you think that the PPB is doing a good job recruiting people of character? And when they become part of the PPB culture, are recruits' characters enhanced? I don't think so. Right now we have a local columnist living under death threats for taking the bureau's history on. Sure, there are people with GEDs who are every bit as qualified as some of Portland's finest. But that ain't saying much. And to trust the bureau to weed out the choice GEDs from the guys who shouldn't be cops in Portland -- I'm not confident about that.

Regarding Jack's post, I can only speak to what I've personally seen. I've become a better person because of the people that I work with. I'm not saying every cop in this city is great, some are awful, but if you had the opportunity to see the small good works that are done every single day, I think you'd see things a little differently. I didn't drink the kool-aid, but I do more than just read the papers.

Someone above asked if other cops might be willing to post their thoughts on this issue. I can ask around, but I won't get my hopes up. It's really hard to read bad things about the place that you put a lot of your life into, and while it's fairly well moderated here, most of what is discussed regarding PPB is fairly disdainful. I'm here because I'm interested in the whole debate, but it still bums me out sometimes.

And since character is a quality that is difficult to quantify or even ascertain, endorsements and credentials must stand in. The lowering of standards is never, ever, a good sign.
Nobody ought to trust the PPB to have good judgement. Indeed, prospective cadets and the human resources department both need to conform to our collective conventions of achievement. Police carry guns. You're hardly minimizing risk by taking a chance on who you hire.

Still, the requirement that a bureaucracy minimize its risk and the project of accurately identifying natural police are two separate and distinct magisteria. It is a very minor, very pedantic point, and pretty immaterial here. The only legitimate hope is that PPB will keep their standards as high as the market will bear. At least then when the next police brutality case comes up we can be legitimately angry about how the process has failed us.

most of what is discussed regarding PPB is fairly disdainful.

Well, there is reason for that from time to time. However, this blog is tame. You want downright disgusting talk of Police? Try Indymedia.


There are always going to be people suing the police and claiming brutality. It happens to me and every single cop that is doing his job. In my personal experience, the complaints have been such complete and obivous fabrications that they've been shot down fairly quickly. But it's just gonna happen. Sorry for the rough language but no matter who you are, in this job occasionally you are going to have to kick someone's ass. The problem begins if you start looking too hard for the opportunity, or don't know when to quit. I don't know too many of those guys.


At least Indymedia is funny. Ranting is easy to tolerate. Here the folks are pretty savvy, can spell, and seem to represent a good cross-section of the non-criminal community. That makes it sting.

I like that the assistant chief claims that he wants the job of Portland Police Officer to be viewed as an elite one, but then out of the other side of his mouth he wants to lower standards of recruiting. ?????

I'm not going to make blanket statements about the Portland Police here on this forum, but clearly ...CLEARLY... there are some bad apples getting through the supposed strenuous screening process that we're supposed to have so much confidence in. Now you want to widen the recruiting pool to include people who are generally less responsible than people who have gone to some college? ???????

Somebody, quick, show me the logic!!

It makes sense to have a minimum education requirement of a 2 year college degree, but allow a year for year credit against the requirement for time served as a sworn police officer. Experience as a reserve police officer or sheriff should also count for something. Military police experience shouldn't carry as much weight as civilian experience,(maybe a 2 to 1 ratio), but credit should be given for it as well. Promotions, etc. should be dependent on an officer continuing to develop themselves by getting education in a relevant field such as criminal justice or public administraton. The bottom line is that you have to take each person as they come and evaluate them in accordance with their background and experience. A 22 year old who has no college education and has been living in mom and dad's basement while working at a Starbuck's doesn't sound like a good candidate to me. A 22 year old who has a two year degree and maybe worked his or her way through school as a security guard or did a stint in the military sounds a little more promising. It all sounds great to say that you want to hire people with compassion and maturity, but you have to have objective standards by which to evaluate prospects. Turning the process into a big "I'm O.K. your O.K." free for all sounds like a recipe for trouble.

The way this was explained to me is that it's a way to hire good candidates with life experience other than college, i.e. veterans, laterals from other departments, etc.

I wouldn't want to see the degree requirement removed - but I wouldn't mind adding some additional options... including X years of military service, or X years of experience in another law enforcement agency.

(Oh damn, there I go criticizing another city policy again. Gotta go get my talking points, I guess.)

Why should Portland's Finest have lower standards than teachers?
Would you sit still for a teacher to have just a high school degree?

Sarah Silverman wrote a skit where a cop pulls her over in Hollywood. The cop says "Do you know why I'm standing here?"

Sarah says "Because you got bad grades in school?"

BTW, anyone can be a PPS teacher -- all you need is six years of college, two college degrees including a Master's, and the highest Praxis teacher test scores in America... almost double the score you need to teach in California.

Just for the record every cop I know who has taken their "obscene" C of P pension has immediatlely gone to work somehwere else to make ends meet. After 20 - 25 years the COP pension is good (About 50% - 60% of salary) but it's not enough to retire permanently on.

Greg C

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