Police officers have to hit a lot of books before they hit the streets. But as part of Mayor Willie Herenton's plan to hire an additional 650 police officers, the department's minimal academic requirement would change from two years of college to a high school diploma.
In the early 1970s, prospective officers only had to complete high school. But when Buddy Chapman became the police director in 1976 -- a job he held until 1983 -- he quickly learned that many of the high school grads he'd hired were reading and writing at an eighth-grade level. Chapman hired an education professor to design curriculum for the police academy. The professor suggested requiring officers to complete two years of college, and Chapman took note, changing the requirements a year after he took office.
Now the executive director of Memphis CrimeStoppers, Chapman worries that relaxing the requirements may not be the best idea.
-- by Bianca Phillips
Flyer: Before two years of college became a requirement, what sort of problems did you see?
Chapman: We had [officers] who were having a difficult time reading and filling out a traffic ticket and having problems functioning in court. We realized that a big portion of that was reading comprehension, English language, that type of thing.
What was your initial reaction?
I hired a professor [to work at the training academy]. Previous to that, the academy had always been headed up by a police officer, and I think it is today. I hired Fred Klyman to design the courses so that we'd not only get the required police courses in, but we'd also get the English, the comprehension, and the composition that was necessary. The academy had to [teach] what had not been attained in high school.
Did it make a difference?
Yes. We saw a decrease in the amount of paperwork that was incorrectly done or indecipherable. We saw an improvement in how the officers were able to relate to the legal system.
Why did you add the two-year college requirement?
It was based on [Klyman's] recommendation. We thought if we required two years of college, we would get a better quality candidate. There's more to education that simply what you learn out of the book. There's the academic discipline of learning it.
What effect do you think relaxing that requirement could have on the department today?
They'd obviously have a bigger pool of candidates if they relaxed those things, and I'm sure that's why they're looking at it.