The Dallas City Council votes Wednesday on a plan to relax hiring standards at the Dallas Police Department to expand the pool of possible officer applicants.
The change would eliminate the requirement of 45 hours of college credit, 36 months of active duty military experience or 36 months of law enforcement employment with another agency.
Instead, the City of Dallas would accept fresh recruits who have only been certified as Texas Peace Officers through some other agency.
Officers transferring in would still undergo training at the Dallas Police Academy on DPD policy, but the change could eliminate up to 23 weeks of training time required now to get new officers on the street.
Chief U. Renee Hall told a Dallas City Council committee in December that officers hired from other cities would still be thoroughly vetted. The committee endorsed the change, sending it forward to Wednesday's vote of the full City Council but some members were reluctant about endorsing the new hiring rules.
The department's response time to lower-priority calls is far slower than a few years ago when the force had around 700 more officers. The latest count in January was 3,014, but many of those are cadets who are still in the police academy.
University of Texas at Dallas Criminology Professor Alex Piquero said college is a worthwhile advantage for police officers.
“Higher education is not just about the substance you learn in your criminal justice class or accounting class or your engineering class. It’s about the diversity you have within your curriculum, meeting people of different races and ethnicities and gender. And the whole experience of that includes individuals thinking about the world,” he said.
Instead of reducing requirements, Piquero said Dallas should increase pay to attract qualified applicants.
“We want an educated work force. We want them to be very well compensated. And we want to recruit and retain the best officers we can,” Piquero said.
Dallas increased starting police pay to $60,000 this year and gave officers already on the force a 3 percent raise to help discourage them from leaving. Dallas police officer salaries that were at the bottom of the heap before are now above some North Texas cities, but still below others.
Sgt. Sheldon Smith, a 25-year Dallas police veteran, agreed with Piquero about keeping the college requirement.
“I'm not an advocate of ever reducing standards just to hire people because I think it's so important that you have to get the right people in our profession,” he said.
Smith is also the Dallas Chapter President of the National Black Police Association. He had a four-year college degree and military experience when he joined the Dallas police force.
Today, many US cities are struggling to find recruits in a very tight labor market with unemployment very low.
“Things have changed now with recruitment issues for departments across the nation, but I just think we should not reduce our standard,” Smith said.
The Dallas City Council meeting at which the vote is scheduled will be the first away from City Hall, scheduled in the afternoon and evening. It is a new Dallas effort to take government to the people.
The meeting will start at 2 p.m. at The Park in the Woods Recreation Center, 6801 Mountain Creek Parkway in far southwest Dallas.
City Council Public Hearings that normally start at 1 p.m. every other Wednesday at Dallas City Hall will begin at 6 p.m. Feb. 13 at the recreation center.