In the late 1970s, then-Memphis police director Buddy Chapman noticed officers were having trouble doing the most basic of duties: filling out traffic tickets.
"What a policeman writes is very critical to a case most of the time," said Chapman, who served as director from 1976 to 1983. "Some of the officers couldn't read or comprehend the [traffic] tickets."
Eventually, Chapman required police recruits to have two years of college, or roughly 54 credit hours. Lacking that, officers needed two years of military service.
But in November, the Memphis Police Department (MPD) axed those requirements in hopes of enlarging its pool of applicants. The first police training academy class since the college requirement was dropped begins Monday, January 21st.
Public affairs officer Monique Martin said MPD never considered officers' grades. "The hours were just as is," Martin said. "We didn't know if they passed or failed a class, or if they were an A student or a C student."
A 2006 study by the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission recommended that MPD keep the college requirement, stating that college-educated officers had better patrol performance, better communication skills, and less absenteeism.
"It's not so much about specific classes that you take that make you a better officer. College shows that you understand the discipline behind learning," said research associate Katy Mack, who authored the Crime Commission study.
Though former police director Chapman fears many high school graduates "function on a ninth-grade level," he understands why MPD did away with the college requirement.
"You have to face reality," Chapman said. "They're not able to fill their quota with that requirement."