In response to serious recruiting challenges, many U.S. police departments are "lowering" their standards for hiring.
The reasons behind the shortage are many, including a strong job market, the Iraq war, and a high number of retirements.
Departments are using whatever means they have at their disposal, including upping their advertising. Case in point: while driving down 880 the other day in Oakland, CA, I noticed a sign promoting the $69,000 starting salary for Oakland Police Officers (and people wonder why it's hard to hire in the Bay Area).
The article cited above describes many steps departments are taking, some of which may initially seem like cause for concern. Let's take a look at them:
1. Forgiving minor criminal convictions, particularly old ones. If someone got busted 10 years ago for doing Ecstasy in college, and hasn't been in trouble since, is that still relevant?
2. Relaxing the 2-year college degree requirement, or allowing experience substitutions. I'm familiar with some research indicating a relationship between college education and officer performance, but if an officer has relevant experience (and performed well), this seems like a wash.
3. Raising the age limit. Age and job performance has been a hot topic in I/O psychology for a long time. While there are some declines over age (e.g., working memory), my reading is that they aren't practically significant in most situations. And we're talking about raising the limit to 40 or 44, not 85.
4. Relaxing fitness requirements. To me this comes back to plain 'ol validation. Granted, it's not always easy to determine where a pass point should be set (do they have to run 300 meters in 55 seconds or 56 seconds?), but do the study. Find out where a reasonable point would be. Run the numbers. See if it makes sense.
A lot of the concerns that go along with these changes--hiring people with low integrity, hiring people physically or mentally unable to perform the job--can be mitigated with good assessment, such as memory tests, physical ability testing, integrity testing, and reference and background checks.
Overall, I think this is a good thing--minimum qualifications (MQ) are often barriers to employment for certain ethnicities, women, and individuals with disabilities. And the situation is even worse when they aren't based on any rigorous study of the necessity for the MQs to being with.
On the other hand, I have heard anecdotally that similar changes in standards for U.S. Army recruits has resulted in more challenges for training.
What do you think--big deal or not?