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Don't relax cop standards again

City officials should resist making it too easy for candidates to become a Portland police officer. Over the next few years, the Portland Police Bureau may have close to 240 officers retire from service. And if recent history continues, the city will struggle to find and hire enough qualified replacements. At the same time, the police bureau is attempting to attract more minority applicants.

The city is not alone in facing a difficult hiring future. Several Portland-area utilities and major manufacturers say they fear that over the next few years, they will lose more than a quarter of their work force to retirement.

In response, these employers are not lowering their employment standards. They are wisely investing in work-force training and pushing the Oregon Legislature to improve funding for community colleges and state universities in an effort to train more workers.

Time in college has benefits

We think that's a better approach than an idea floated last week by Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer as she spoke to the City Club of Portland.

Sizer said she is thinking about reducing the educational standards now required of police officer candidates from an equivalent of two years of college or an associate's degree.

Sizer says she is concerned that the cost of college is keeping some qualified candidates from applying for the police bureau.

If Sizer adopts her plan, this will be the second time in six years that the police bureau has reduced its educational standards. Beginning in 1996, the city imposed a four-year college degree requirement, but in 2001, the police bureau reduced that to its current two-year college standard.

We don't think a further relaxation of educational benchmarks is a good idea at all. While attending college may not directly teach an applicant how to be a great police officer, college does provide applicants a broader array of life experiences than they otherwise may attain.

College itself is a test that helps future employers measure how applicants learn and utilize what they have learned - both in a classroom and in life.

And college places students into a melting pot of ideas, cultures and situations - an experience that will serve a new police officer well.

Invest in police education

We understand that being a successful police officer requires far more than a college degree or a certain number of college credits. And even though attending college is expensive and sometimes can be perceived as out-of-reach for minorities or the working poor, higher learning should be embraced, not sidestepped by the police bureau.

To that end, the city should examine many other solutions before relaxing educational standards for new officers. The police bureau should investigate the hiring practices and educational requirements used by other major city police departments and large county sheriffs' offices.

And police bureau managers should meet with members of Manufacturing 21 - the coalition of Oregon employers committed to expanded training and educational opportunities for new and current workers. These local manufacturers are training people for a different line of work, but they may have learned lessons that will help the police bureau.

City police administrators also must persuade the City Council and state legislators to invest more in education, training opportunities and tuition assistance so that enough of the right people can be hired and trained to be the best cops possible.

Such an investment in education and people who want to be cops will mean even better public safety.