Friday, January 04, 2008

MPD Shoots Itself In The Foot With Dumbed-Down Qualifications

Memphis businesses have long complained to local government and the Chamber of Commerce that graduates of Memphis City Schools are unprepared to work for them.

University of Memphis has long had special remedial classes for Memphis City Schools graduates.

So what can we do with all of these poorly prepared graduates?

Here’s an idea: Give them badges and guns.

Police Academy II

Or, at least, that’s what Memphis Police Department plans to do as it drops its requirement that recruits have two years of college education. The top cops in Memphis contend that the labor pool is simply too small for such a daunting educational requirement. By way of context, about 40 percent of Shelby Countians have attended some college, and the number of people in our labor pool who have attended some college is roughly 205,000.

But no matter, MPD officials say the police department can teach the recruits what they need to know at the police academy.

The suggestion that police academy training bears any resemblance to a college criminal justice curriculum is laughable, not to mention totally misleading. Comparing what’s taught at the police academy to what’s taught in college is akin to comparing community college to the Ivy League.

The Fourth “R”

Today, a college education is about is more than the three R’s – reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. More to the point, it’s about the fourth R – the one that’s determining whether workers succeed in today’s economy – reasoning.

If most applicants for police jobs are now graduates of Memphis City Schools, eliminating a requirement for two years of college pretty much guarantees that no one will be taking criminal justice classes at U of M or Southwest Tennessee Community College in the future.

So, rather than throwing in the towel and paring back qualifications, how about a modest proposal?

Modest Proposal

Let Memphis Police Department change the policy. In the future, new recruits will only be required to have a high school degree.

But…also require them to get the equivalent of two years of college within their first six years on the force.

Memphis Police Department might even automatically sign them up for classes at Lemoyne-Owen College. After all, City of Memphis is giving the college about $4 million over the next three years. The least the college can do in return for taxpayers is to educate our police officers.

Just Do It

While we don’t discount the MPD’s concern, we are reminded of the comments of a former Memphis mayor two decades ago. When told that by purchasing officials that they couldn’t find any minority businesses for public contracts, the mayor boomed: “You can find purple-haired Eskimos if you wants to find them. This isn’t about a lack of people. It’s about a lack of commitment. If you wanted to find them, you would.”

We don’t want to oversimplify the challenge of recruiting new police officers, but if Memphis Police Department wants to find recruits, it can do it by improving its image so more qualified people will apply and by offering competitive salaries to get them.

Most of all, city police officials should first quit demeaning the jobs it’s trying to fill. That’s exactly what they do when they suggest that a high school degree is just fine for the job of protecting the people of Memphis.

Sadly, there are two public jobs that are perennially treated as if no real skills are required and anybody could do them – teaching and policing. Ufortunately, that’s the dominant message being sent by MPD when it dumbs down its qualifications for new recruits.


Anonymous said...

As a 23 year member of the MPD I hate to tell you this but many of my fellow officers can barely write complete sentences - and that is with 2 years of college. I even know a few who have "earned" degrees - including Masters - that can't write either.

As to the "dumbing down" - that goes on all through our careers - most recently with the latest Major's promotional test. The City gave a "practice test" a few weeks ago to about 120 lieutenants so that they could determine what components of the test produced the most "adverse impact". Three years ago those same 120 people took a Major's test which, unfortunately, a large percentage of the black lieutenants could not pass so the City scrapped that process due to "adverse impact". Scrapped a perfectly good process despite the fact the test was deemed valid and job related - the City just felt the "numbers" were not balanced so they had to find a way to fix it. Now they are "dumbing down" this new process in the hopes of getting more blacks to make the grade. This has sadly been going on for almost my entire career. I can only guess what it will be like for these new, "no college" recruits.

The one plus to the new recruiting policy is that you have to be 21 before you can become a commissioned officer - i.e. carry a gun - so at least the folks heading to the Academy will not be fresh out of high school.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this thoughtful post. Would you please provide a link to your source for the following comments, "By way of context, about 40 percent of Shelby Countians have attended some college, and the number of people in our labor pool who have attended some college is roughly 205,000.", in the form of an additonal post or comment to this article? I'd like to do additional reading on this subject.

Smart City Consulting said...

Anonymous: We got that number from the census bureau: Memphis educational attainment.

Anonymous said...

What, no link?

gatesofmemphis said...

I think your proposal is a good and reasonable one.

I'm sorry that you have to begin it by slamming every graduate of the Memphis City Schools, rather than the bureaucracy, or the specific problems. For instance, I don't think U of M has "special remedial classes for Memphis City Schools graduates". It has remedial classes for students, from anywhere, whose placement scores are not high enough. This may include some MCS graduates but probably includes more than a few SCS grads and even private schools. It's possible they're herding MCS grads into a separate special space, but I'd like to see a link to that.

Denigrating all MCS grads like this is a scattershot approach that achieves nothing for your point. It just feeds the trolls' racial and racist smugness.

George said...

Dear Anonymous and SCC,
It was actually closer to 48% in the 2000 census. The 2006 American Community Survey just under 47% have some college or more. Go to:

George said...

Sorry, the 47% is of those over 25; not the entire labor force. 40% is probably closer for the entire labor force. George

Anonymous said...

I am a 40 year old male, lived in Memphis in the past for around 30 years, I have seen Memphis fall apart! I dropped out of school in the 11th grade, went and got my Good enough Diploma "GED" . What I have seen in the MPD has been very sad from the 80s till today ( over weight and just lazy officers) I have worked the last 5 years in the financial Industry but do not have a degree, Did my job well and exceeded other employees. In the past I would have went out for the MPD but no collage! It time now! I will be going out for the so called "Dumb Down program" and I know with my abilities I will exceed. Will I be the change that MPD needs? If there more officers with the moral concern and loyalty to there authorities and the ability and passion for law enforcement, then yes it will change this very sad city for the best!
I will be one officer that is doing the job the way it is to be done with only a GED!

Kevin from Ohio said...

One blogger, an experienced officer with Memphis, said he knew several college graduates who couldn't write a complete sentence. You can find "exceptions" to any hiring process.

I personally feel requiring college is a good thing. On average an educated officer will have better writing skills, exercise prudence in the field, and effectively communicate better with the general public. Please keep in mind the imperative word in the aforementioned is "AVERAGE."

As a minority, I am keenly aware of the struggles of inner city kids, a failing school system, and how a dysfunctional family can be a "cancer" in developing a good moral compass.
The best exercise for the human heart is to reach out to those less fortunate and lift them up to a higher ground.

I had an IQ of 79 in high school. I took several remedial courses and was determined to go to college. I graduated in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in management and labor relations. I'm 43yr old now but in excellent shape.

I plan to apply to Memphis Police Department this month. I'm degreed with 3 years of prior military service with an honorable discharge. If accepted, I plan to "exercise" my human heart!