Police lower requirement
[Portland, OR]

February 1, 2001 Thursday SUNRISE EDITION
Copyright 2001 The Oregonian
The Oregonian
February 1, 2001 Thursday SUNRISE EDITION

(PORTLAND, Ore) -- The Police Bureau Wednesday lowered the educational requirement for entry-level police to an associate degree, or 60 semester hours or 90 quarter hours of college courses.

At the front desk of the bureau's personnel division, new job announcements and application forms replaced old ones that had for the past five years set a four-year college degree as the minimum requirement.

"We realized we needed to make an adjustment," Chief Mark Kroeker said, citing the struggles the bureau has had recruiting officers. "I don't view it as a lowering of our standard. I view it as an opening of the door to other qualified candidates."

The chief expects the change to expand the bureau's pool of candidates and minority applicants as it strives to fill 53 vacancies, reach its authorized strength of 1,047 sworn officers and prepare for a large wave of 120 anticipated retirements in 2002.

The shift also reflects the difficulty Portland police have faced in the past 21/2 years in attracting candidates during a period of low unemployment, competitive salaries in the private sector and competition with other law enforcement agencies that did not require a four-year college degree.

"I think it may open up the job to people who have even more of a desire to come to work here," said Jennifer Lawrence, the bureau's recruitment director.

Detective Sgt. Robert King, president of the Portland Police Association, said the police union understands the dilemma the bureau faces but is disappointed in the move away from the four-year degree. He said the bureau should increase tuition reimbursements for officers so they can complete their college education once hired.

Former Chief Charles Moose had set the degree standard in 1996, arguing that the complexities of the job demanded more education. Currently, 63 percent of the bureau's officers have a four-year degree, according to the bureau's personnel division.

Before 1996, a high school diploma or General Educational Development certificate was sufficient. The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office is the only other law enforcement agency in Oregon with a four-year degree requirement.

Kroeker and Mayor Vera Katz, who is police commissioner, said they do not expect the caliber of city police officers to drop because the testing process will continue to weed out unsatisfactory candidates and identify solid candidates. The bureau will make a four-year college degree a requirement for officers' promotion to sergeant or a higher rank.

The bureau wants to hire 100 officers this year, and another 100 in 2002. Police test between 50 and 70 applicants a month, Lawrence said. The bureau's goals are high, considering it hired 41 people in 2000 even after a series of aggressive out-of-state recruiting trips.

"Even when we pulled out every stop, we're still falling far short of the necessary numbers," Kroeker said.

Katz, who favored the four-year college degree, said the decision was difficult but necessary.

"I've tried for 18 months to figure out other solutions. We hired a recruiter. We sent the chief on trips himself. Then we did lateral hiring," Katz said. "But it became very evident that if we don't make some changes, we will be in a very bad position."

Recruiting trips are planned this year to Raleigh, N.C.; New Orleans; Las Cruces, N.M.; Spokane and Pullman, Wash.; Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska; Dallas, El Paso, San Antonio and Houston, Texas; San Francisco; and Chicago.


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