|High Standards Are Nice, But We Need Bodies|
The question in Oklahoma is whether or not they've set the bar too high for recruits who will be required to pass new physical fitness and reading tests now mandated by state law.
Critics say the new standards are too tough, and that the tests could unnecessarily keep some Oklahoma police academy students out of law enforcement.
"People are going to fail," Steve Emmons, assistant operations director for the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training's basic academy told reporters with the Associated Press recently.
"Some Oklahoma communities already have a difficult time staffing" their law enforcement agencies, Emmons went on to say. He said high standards are a noble goal, but that the new tests could make a bad staffing problem that much worse.
State police and local forces in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Norman, Edmond, Broken Arrow and Lawton train their own recruits, so they won't be affected by the new tests that start with the academy's January 2010 class.
But in other parts of the state, those seeking to become police officers will have to score at least 70 percent on the written test as well as taking on a tough new obstacle course as part of the physical exam.
Ken McNair, executive director of the Oklahoma Sheriffs' Association, said he's not sure how the new law will work. He thinks it's a good thing that the standards have been written into law. But he also points out recruits already needed to be in shape and able to read to make it through the academy and wonders if the new requirements for police hires are too much.
Likewise, Stacey Puckett, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police, told the AP that she's hoping the changes don't reduce the applicant pool but that the "goal to enhance professionalism in law enforcement" is generally a good idea.
Ponca City Police Chief Clayton Johnson said he's worried that the law could keep some agencies from filling out their ranks.
"In isolated communities you might be the lone ranger," Johnson told the AP.
"The better trained [officers] are, the better they are at their jobs. The community has the right to expect the same quality of law enforcement everywhere they go."
And Woods County Sheriff Rudy Briggs thinks the move could affect how departments screen applicants. Some police departments and sheriff's offices have processes in place to vet recruits before spending time and money on their training.
"I think that it could affect agencies that are already having a hard time," Briggs said in a recent interview.