City changes policy for officer applicants

November 1, 2018 GMT

The city of Deer Park has loosened its policy on education requirements for police officer applicants to include those without a bachelor’s degree as long as they have 60 hours of college credit and meet certain criteria for either military service or experience as a peace officer.

The previous policy instituted in 1998, required applicants to have a bachelor’s degree to be hired, Police Chief Greg Grigg said.

But Griggs began to consider a change to include those who have some college credit along with previous military or law enforcement experience after he ran into challenges when hiring applicants who earned a college degree without work experience.

“They never had a job, they were not working out at all,” he said of inexperienced grads. “Being a police officer should not be your first job, we found that out. We were locked into a four-year degree; so we were locked into that demographic.”

Under the new requirements, applicants must either hold a bachelor’s degree in any field or qualify under one of the following exceptions:

They must have earned 60 college hours and a minimum of two years of military service with an honorable discharge.

They must have earned 60 college hours and a license from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement or the ability to obtain a Texas Commission on Law Enforcement license if certified in another state, and at least two years of experience as a full-time certified peace officer from an agency at least comparable in size, complexity and duties to Deer Park’s department.

A TCOLE license allows a candidate to work as a peace officer and is conferred once an applicant has graduated a police academy, passed an exit exam and been hired by a police department, Grigg said.

“They have to have substantial life experience and work history to hire them. It’s not worked out too many times where they’ve not done it, and they can’t handle the responsibilities,” he said. “If you have the four-year degree and no work history, we’re not going hire them. They can apply, but I’m not going hire them.”

Grigg said Deer Park PD is authorized to have 65 officers and has six openings. But that may dwindle to two openings in the coming weeks when some recent hires come on staff who applied before the change.

The salary range for police officers in Deer Park is from $55,348.80 to $62,774.40, depending on experience, Grigg said.

Grigg said he’s comfortable hiring someone with previous military or police officer experience as long that experience was with a department of equal or larger size to Deer Park’s.

The chief noted that the department already has some officers with a military background who qualified under the previous requirements.

“If they’ve been deployed, they’ve definitely faced some hardship and they’re coming in here with life experience,” he said of candidates with military experience.

As for those with experience as law enforcement officers, he said, “I don’t want somebody coming out of a town with 300 people, it s a totally different job. But if I know they’ve had two years of being a police officer, they’re going to come to with us with some experience.”

Deer Park has a population of 33,891, according to 2017 U.S. Census Bureau information.

Grigg said another contributing factor in the general decline in qualified applicants coming straight of universities is what he believes are negative attitudes toward police officers and law enforcement on college campuses across the country.

“A large part of the negativity about police was being picked up by college professors,” he said. “Many of those (police confrontations) were happening on college campuses.”

He thinks an “antipolice” attitude reduced the number of applicants, adding, “and what applicants we got, we didn’t need that coming in.”

Another problem was applicants with a history of drug use or lying on the application, which means automatic disqualification, Grigg said.

City Council accepted Grigg’s proposed changes in requirements on June 20.

He said he informed his officers of the possible change before going to City Council to make sure his staff understood the need and that the newcomers with less time and money invested into education should be received well.

“The two things that we picked — coming out of the military and another police department of comparable size — we know they’ve been out on the street and doing the job, that’s going to go a long way with these folks looking at them as a colleague,” he said.

The decision to shift away from college degrees as the primary criteria was big, Grigg said. But he doesn’t think he’ll have to reconsider it any time soon.

“I don’t even see on the horizon going back to the four-year degree. Where our country is, I don’t see that changing or changing quickly.”