Becoming a police officer has long depended on having the right answers to questions like are you cleanshaven and tattoo-free? What’s your credit score? What about marijuana — ever inhaled?, reports the New York Times. With killings by officers forcing a public reckoning, major police departments are struggling to fill thousands of openings: 1,000 in Chicago, nearly 300 in Phoenix and 200 in Detroit. With the mandate to become as diverse as the communities they serve, police departments are rethinking standards once considered sacrosanct.
New Orleans, with more than 400 openings, no longer automatically disqualifies those who have injected heroin or smoked crack. Aurora, Co., has stopped using military-style running tests, instead checking how quickly candidates can get out of a squad car. Pittsburgh, accused of discriminating against black applicants, updated its hiring criteria to include integrity, dependability and “cultural competence,” or the ability to incorporate diverse perspectives. St. Paul Commander John Lozoya said that 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.” Still, the process of becoming a police officer can take more than a year. It generally includes interviews, written and oral exams, physical and psychological examinations, a fitness test, a polygraph exam, drug testing, credit checks and an extensive background investigation.