Are you cleanshaven and tattoo-free? What’s your credit score? What about marijuana — ever inhaled?
Becoming a police officer has long depended on having the right answers to questions like these.
But with killings by officers forcing a public reckoning over whether the police deserve to be seen automatically as the good guys, departments in major cities are struggling to fill thousands of openings: 1,000 in Chicago, nearly 300 in Phoenix and 200 in Detroit. And with the additional mandate to become as diverse as the communities they serve, police departments are rethinking recruitment standards once considered sacrosanct.
New Orleans, with more than 400 openings, no longer automatically disqualifies those who have injected heroin or smoked crack. Aurora, Colo., has stopped using military-style running tests, but now checks how quickly candidates can get out of a squad car.
Pittsburgh, accused of discriminating against black applicants, recently updated its hiring criteria to include integrity, dependability and “cultural competence,” or the ability to incorporate diverse perspectives.
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John Lozoya, a senior commander with the St. Paul Police Department, said law enforcement now had little choice but to modernize.
“In the past, recruitment has been based on a 1950s model: six feet tall, right out of the military,” he said. “But as we’ve evolved as a society, we realize we’re not like that. We had to look at our hiring practices. We had to adapt.”