Police departments around the U.S. are having to lower recruiting standards to fill thousands of openings. Some are no longer disqualifying candidates due to drug use or having juvenile criminal record.
New Orleans no longer automatically disqualifies those who have injected heroin or smoked crack. Even the Houston Police Department has had to loosen restrictions in order to attract candidates for open positions.
“We've lowered the amount of college credit hours required to join the department from 60 to 48 because our cadets actually earn college credits while they're in the academy,” says Joe Gamaldi, vice president of the Houston Police Officers' Union.
“Our most recent policy change is that officers can now display their tattoos on their arm without having to wear a long sleeve,” he says.
However, Gamaldi says those with minor drug or criminal offenses will still be scrutinized.
“Anyone that comes applying with a criminal offense on their record is going to have a very steep uphill climb on ever becoming a police officer,” he says.
Juvenile offenses reflect a lack of character HPD wants to avoid.
“We really are looking for the 100 percent best recruits that we can find,” says Gamaldi. “Law enforcement is under more scrutiny than we have been before, so we have to very careful about who we hire because just one wrong decision can have a profound impact on the reputation of the Houston Police Department.”