In effort to boost recruiting, Pa. lawmakers pass bill to lower police academy fitness requirement – Pennsylvania Capital-Star
Police departments across Pennsylvania have struggled to recruit cadets since the pandemic, and protests in the summer of 2020 over police brutality in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Now state officials are working to make police training an option for more people.
The state House passed legislation last week that would lower the minimum fitness standard for a potential recruit to be admitted to a police academy. But not everyone thinks that’s a good move.
The bill’s intent is to end the shortfall that Gov. Josh Shapiro put at 1,200 officers statewide during his budget address in March, its prime sponsor, Rep. Dan Williams (D-Chester), said,
“One of the greatest dangers to citizens, as well as law enforcement officers, is not enough officers,” Williams said during debate before the bill passed Nov. 14 with a 115-88 vote. The bill now goes to the state Senate for consideration.
Civil rights groups have argued that the solution lies not with the quantity of officers, but the quality, calling for reforms to how officers are trained for dealing with people in mental health crisis, for instance.
House Bill 863 would reduce the minimum fitness level for police academy recruits from the 30th percentile to the 15th percentile of performance on the standard physical fitness assessment, which includes a 1½ mile run, a 300-meter sprint, push-ups and pull-ups.
In order to graduate from the police academy, a cadet would have to improve their physical fitness to reach the 30th percentile of performance. It would also alter the reading comprehension standard to allow local police departments to submit their own reading tests to the state for consideration.
Rep. Barry Jozwiak (R-Berks) was among those who voted in opposition to the bill, all of whom were Republicans. As the House’s representative to the Municipal Police Officers Training and Education Commission (MPOTEC), Jozwiak said changing the fitness and reading standards is a bad idea. MPOTEC issues the state’s police academy and firearms training curricula.
“Society expects police officers to be the best of the best, at least better than the average citizen,” Jozwiak said. “To accomplish that, we set high standards in our police academies, expecting to have the very best cadets graduating and to give applicants the best chance to succeed.”
Jozwiak noted that the fitness standards were already lowered from the 50th percentile to the 30th percentile several years ago.
And when a police department makes the decision to sponsor a recruit in training, he said, it has already invested significant resources in vetting candidates by way of background checks.
MPOTEC’s police academy curriculum requires that cadets maintain the 30th percentile through the five months of the academy, with the first assessment after one month, Jozwiak said. He said fitness training instructors say it would be impossible for a person to improve from the 15th to 30th percentile in a month.
“Entrance requirements are meant to keep people from wasting your time and money trying to do something that they are not prepared to do or would not be eligible to do,” Jozwiak said.
The Shapiro Administration and Pennsylvania State Police, which oversees MPOTEC, support finding solutions to ease the shortage of municipal police officers, the state police said in a statement issued by its press office.
“The Administration supports easing the physical fitness requirements to allow more, qualified applicants to enter municipal police academies, where they can receive training to meet the fitness standards required to become police officers,” the statement reads.
Shapiro has taken other measures to improve recruiting for the state police and local police departments. In one of his first actions as governor, Shapiro removed the college degree requirement for thousands of state jobs, including the state police.
Shapiro admin waives college degree requirements for state police cadets
This year’s budget proposal included a $2,500 tax credit to encourage young people to consider careers in law enforcement and other critical front-line professions in which interest has dwindled.
Marcia Cole, director of the Criminal Justice Training Center at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, agreed that lowering fitness standards could result in wasted resources if recruits wash out because they’re not able to meet the fitness standards.
“If somebody comes into the academy in decent shape they have a better chance of graduating,” Cole said, adding that they would be less likely to be injured, too.
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Originally published at www.penncapital-star.com,by Peter Hall