Poor standard: The city sets a low bar for screening police recruits

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The Pittsburgh Police Bureau's new policy establishing requirements for officers who can screen job applicants sets the bar way too low.

The Post-Gazette reported June14 that some of the officers who had volunteered and been accepted to participate in the crucial oral examinations of new recruits had problems and controversies in their recent past. Among them were a commander under internal investigation for holding two full-time jobs at once, a sergeant accused of choking not one but two fellow officers, an officer who participated in the notorious beating of Homewood teen Jordan Miles and another accused of wrongly using a Taser on a man, which cost the city $155,000 in court.

It was disappointing to hear acting police Chief Regina McDonald, promoted when the former chief was indicted, offer a vigorous defense of the officers' inclusion on the interview panels. A well-run department would not allow such a thing.

Unless the bureau thinks a way to weed out inappropriate job candidates is with a "takes one to know one" approach, it's hard to fathom why it wouldn't make sure that all interviewers are experienced, well-respected officers with spotless records and reputations. The majority of city police would fit that bill.

But instead of codifying rigorous requirements, public safety director Michael Huss responded last week to news of the missteps with a weak policy for the future. It says officers who volunteer to participate in the interviews can't be under internal investigation that could result in criminal charges, have criminal charges pending or be under department monitoring because of troubling behavior. In addition, they must have a 10-year record free of domestic violence arrests, protection from abuse orders, internal discipline or lawsuits which result in findings against them. Because of the new policy, police officials Friday said five officers were thus ineligible for the panels.

The bureau needs to aim higher. Those who help select the city's future generation of officers must be the best and the brightest, and the city should find ways to entice their participation.

In addition, the city should follow Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle's suggestion to include language that requires diversity among interviewers. This is particularly important because the bureau, racially balanced when it was under a federal consent decree on hiring, has been doing a lousy job of recruiting minorities in recent years.

To build a police force that properly serves and protects its citizens, the city must make sure the people doing the hiring are above reproach.

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