Philly PD: Smart Is Optional
May 6, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Last week on Fault Lines, police officer turned lawyer Greg Prickett explained why chiefs prefer cops with college degrees to their less well-educated brethren. Greg points out that a good police chief minimizes his department’s exposure to liability, and promoting higher education is a great way of achieving that goal.
Educated cops have fewer disciplinary incidents and receive fewer complaints, even though they’re less likely to be satisfied with their jobs. Greg also argues that cops with critical thinking skills and the kind of aptitude for hard work you get at college are especially likely to be assets to the department.
But the Philly Police Department officially doesn’t care. Its new commissioner, Richard Ross, is set to eliminate the department’s requirement that all Police Officer candidates, excepting those with military or prior law enforcement experience, have 60 college credit hours and a > 2.0 GPA to their names.
The reform is supposed to help fix the PPD’s persistent, if self-reported, manpower problem. At a budget hearing in April, Ross told the Philadelphia City Council that he was still 400 officers short of his ideal number (6525), and the department’s educational pre-reqs were scaring away lots of otherwise qualified applicants. As Ross put it:
I can’t tell you how many times I got [sic] people who stop me and my staff and say, I want to be a police officer [but] I don’t have 60 credits.
First, a little history: the 60-credit policy was set up by Ross’ predecessor and mentor, Charles Ramsey, in 2012 as part of an ongoing effort to professionalize the PPD. Ramsey, who retired from the department in January, holds what might be described as ambivalent views on the subject of police education. Although he’d previously called the idea of lowering standards “an embarrassment,” during last year’s budget hearing, Ramsey told City Council that the PPD’s educational requirements were making it difficult to hire black cops despite a recruitment drive at historically black colleges.
There are a couple of reasons why the PPD might find minority cops especially appealing. First, veteran Fault Lines readers may remember that a federal court appointed a monitor to watch the PPD in 2011. In Bailey v. City of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania ACLU alleged that the department was systematically violating minorities’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights during stops and frisks. As part of the settlement, the PPD agreed to collect and turn over data on all incidents.
The ACLU’s been putting out a yearly report, and the results are uniformly, exceptionally ugly. The most recent report was released March 22: according to the PPD’s own data, Philly cops continue to violate minorities’ rights on a daily basis.
Second, in 2013, Ramsey sent an SOS to the Department of Justice after an uptick in the PPD’s use of force. The DoJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office prepared a report, released March, 2015, that confirmed the PPD’s police violence problem and highlighted the racial disparity between cops and other citizens. Last year, the PPD was still 20 percentage points whiter than Philadelphia as a whole.
Since the PPD has such deeply entrenched brutality, racism and rule-of-law problems, it’s tempting to see Commissioner Ross’ move as either a Hail Mary or a cosmetic fix for the racial issue. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on hiring educated, disciplined police, instead of cops who are reassuringly black as they throw you against a wall?