The Ernest Opinion: Commissioner Ross, no need to dumb down the force to improve police diversity

Charles Mostoller/Metro file

The plan to nix cops having to complete college credits is counterproductive for police relations.

Philadelphians tend to only understand things when they’re broken, so let’s imagine if my back was to sustain such an unfortunate physical injury.

The doctor in charge of treating it would be expected to have an advanced level of education, so would the lawyer responsible for assessing possible legal damages. However, if such an incident was due to criminal behavior — shouldn’t the police officer on the ground handling the case not be held to the same intellectual standard?

According to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross and Mayor Jim Kenney, the answer is no — and it’s perhaps for the dumbest possible reason you could imagine. “We have a situation where we have a very diverse community, and the department is not as diverse as we’d like it,” Kenney told the press as the mayor and Ross have spoken in favor of eliminating college credit requirements for officers to join the force.

The numbers are troubling. This year, the Police Academy graduated the smallest class in years with only 15 graduates. On average, they are used to seeing a little over 100. In addition, the department’s 2017 fiscal budget can provide for 6,525 officers, but they currently have about 6,100 officers on the force. Recruitment has been a problem for the force and now they believe dumbing down the expectations will be the solution.

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“We’ve got to get boots on the ground more so than any other crime strategy,” Ross told the press. But having more boots operating with a less educated mind isn’t proper strategy.

For one, diversity issues within recruitment shouldn’t be resolved by employing lower academic expectations on officers that you want to still be considered professional. Being a local law enforcer is a serious responsibility and must not be rationed off to just anyone needed to fill a particular quota.

Dropping college requirements not only endangers police relations with communities that are already growing distrustful with the force — but avoids the real recruitment issue altogether.

Folks aren’t simply not joining the force because they have academic barriers – but because the current reputation of the institution itself lacks visible transparency on addressing some fundamental system flaws.

The responsibility of being a cop in 2016 should be taken with more serious perspective and consideration. I personally rather have more educated officers on the ground assigned to protect me than the possibility of having less skillful ones that would be more of an institutional liability. I propose using some of the current vacant employment funding to help subsidize the educational component expected for officers.

Because a college education provides important soft skills that police training alone can’t. It offers cultural competency, civic instruction, a more accepting space to be challenged on contemporary issues while thinking aloud.

It was the same level of education that helped propel Ross to commissioner. The future should be just as bright for the next successors.

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