As police departments face a recruiting crunch, some policies are being relaxed to find more cadets.


PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Facing huge vacancies in its police force and concerns about public safety, the Philadelphia Police Department had to think creatively about how to get more candidates in the door. Answer? Less pushups.

The city’s move to reduce requirements for its police academy entrance physical exam is part of a broader effort nationally to reevaluate policies that keep law enforcement applicants out of the job pool amid a hiring crisis.

To bridge the gap, policies on tattoos, past drug use, physical fitness and college credits are all being reconsidered. Los Angeles is offering housing subsidies. Other departments like Washington, DC are offering signing bonuses of more than $20,000. Many states have expanded Eligibility for non-citizensWhile others have reduced the minimum age of officers to 18 years.

A law signed late last year by Pennsylvania’s Democratic Governor Josh Shapiro has eased the physical fitness requirements set for applicants in Philadelphia — from situps to timed distance runs and pushups. The city, which suffered high crime rates like other big cities early in the pandemic, has struggled to fill vacancies in its police department.

Under the new law, candidates can pass their exams at a lower threshold than before, with the force now using the 15th percentile of the standards to test its cadets. Depending on your age and gender, this amounts to about three to five situps or pushups, or adding a few minutes to a 1.5-mile run.

Philadelphia is already seeing the benefits of its revised fitness entrance exam. Captain John Walker, who oversees recruitment in the department, said that since the law came into force, 51% of people tested have passed the test, whereas earlier the figure was 36%.

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Cadets are still required to graduate by passing the current standard of 30th percentile, Walker said, but with nine months of training, it gives candidates time to grow.

“Including them in reasonable, logical numbers gives us more people and better opportunities,” he said.

Megan Bortner was one of 100 out of 265 candidates who passed her exam during a recruitment event in February. She’s moving to the city after spending four years as an officer in Indiana, where she completed the same physical fitness test as everyone else, regardless of gender or age.

Applying for the Philadelphia force, Bortner, who is 33, had to complete a 1.5-mile run in less than 20 minutes to pass the test under new entry standards. Earlier, he had to do this work in about 17 minutes. She thinks the lower threshold for entry gives more recruits the chance to become officers, meaning a more diverse pool is working in the community.

“If you have self-doubt or you’re not feeling confident in your athletic abilities, I think this would be a great start,” Bortner said.

Concerns about crime and public safety remain top of mind for Philadelphians. This was a major factor in the recent mayoral election, in which voters chose Democratic candidate Cheryl Parker, who had vowed to do so tough on crime And it is pushing to hire hundreds more officers to keep up with the move.

It is expected that more recruitments will be done to fill about 836 vacancies in the department’s force of 6,000 officers. With approximately 470 officers who are not able to go on duty on the road due to injuries, the department is well below the staffing level it is budgeted for.

When evaluating their policies to try to bring in more cadets, officials looked at the impact of the graduation level physical fitness test. In 2024, they expect to hire at least 350 recruits – a 167% increase in deployed personnel.

“We serve a large number of people. I think it’s important to bring people from all those demographics,” Walker said. “Looking at these barriers to entry, teaching people that there are opportunities and listening to people who are testing, I think that’s where policing is needed.”

Departments small and large across the country are facing challenges, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit policing think tank.

Officers are resigning or retiring at a rate greater than the rate at which applicants are becoming officers, he said. Although more people are starting to apply, there is still a gap.

The hiring crisis is more widespread than it was before Wexler. Additional scrutiny imposed on police officers in 2020 After the murder of George Floyd This has had an impact on the number of people seeking jobs, he said.

Earlier this year in Pennsylvania, the governor removed the requirement for applicants to have at least 60 college credits to become a state trooper. Application surged within a monthPennsylvania State Police said that about half of the aspiring cadets were already ineligible.

In Philadelphia, 29-year-old Tyler Derr was inspired to become an officer because he wanted to be a public servant. After passing the four stages of the physical examination, he said he found it easy.

“I think if someone takes care of themselves and is physically active, it should be pretty easy for them,” he said, cautioning against setting the standards too low.

He said, “I still think we should hold ourselves to a higher standard, both physically and morally.”

This was something Wexler also cautioned about – you can change standards to open up wider opportunities, but you can’t make mistakes in hiring.

“It only takes one bad officer to bring down a department and impact the entire city. We saw it in Minneapolis,” he said. “The one thing you can’t go wrong with is character.”

Brooke Schultz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Copyright 2024 The associated Press, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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