The Pennsylvania State Police has relaxed an 18-year-old recruitment standard to allow military veterans and those with past law enforcement experience to become troopers despite not having college credits or a degree.
Pennsylvania's largest law-enforcement agency made the move as it tries to hire troopers to maintain its budgeted strength of 4,689 members amid retirements.
"We're trying to make up a gap between the number of enlisted compared to allotment," Trooper Adam Reed, a state police spokesman, said Friday.
The agency has 532 vacancies, about 11 percent of its budgeted complement.
"This is very good for Pennsylvania and our veterans, as it allows the men and women who have served this country to find employment after leaving the military and adds a valuable resource to the Pennsylvania State Police," Gov. Tom Corbett said in a news release.
Until last week, state police recruits had to have an associate's degree or 60 credit hours at an accredited institution of higher education.
But as of Wednesday, that requirement was waived for some. Applicants with either four years of law enforcement experience or four years of active military duty with an honorable discharge now do not need to have a college degree or credits.
Half the credit requirements are waived for applicants with two years of experience or service.
"The education requirement, granted, it has its certain merits to it. But the amount of time and expertise that these folks have in a real-life situation, I think there's a lot of transferable skills that almost are equal to what they could have gained sitting in a classroom," said state Sen. Timothy Solobay, D-Canonsburg, who is on the Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee and is a local fire chief.
"Why don't we give them the ability to have some flexibility in being able to transfer those skills?" the senator said.
Trooper Reed, who has a four-year college degree, said the move had been contemplated for several years after recruiters at job fairs had heard about numerous potential recruits who had military or law enforcement experience but lacked a college degree.
"We're finding that they would be very well suited to be troopers and would probably do very well on the job but they just don't possess those 60-credit requirements that were in place," Trooper Reed said. "They don't have the time to go out and get those credits just because they've been in the military since graduation."
He specifically cited discipline, physical fitness and ability to handle stress as attributes that veterans would bring to the academy.
Trooper Reed acknowledged that the GI Bill would permit veterans to get a college education and then apply to the state police academy with both military experience and a college degree.
Michael Becar, executive director of the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training, said most states require police officers to have only a high school diploma although many agencies desire candidates with a college education.
The reality is that most agencies cannot afford to pay college-educated police officers, Mr. Becar said. He added that it is not unusual for veterans and recruits with past police experience to have the educational requirements waived. There is little downside to doing so, he said.
"Those people can be just as valuable and many times they'll come in and get hired and get education while they're working, and sometimes it even makes for a better police officer," Mr. Becar said.
Jonathan D. Silver: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1962 or on Twitter @jsilverpg.