AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department has changed some of the requirements recruits need to meet before moving forward with the Academy.
The first class the changes apply to begins on Oct. 10.
According to what the police department said during Monday’s Public Safety Commission meeting, the changes pertain to physical testing, marijuana use and debt.
APD hopes this helps bring in more applicants as the department continues to grapple with a staffing crisis.
“If you’re looking at hiring somebody, look at it as an investment for your agency, because you could be hiring your next problem,” said Richard Bryan, a former officer who now serves as a trainer and consultant to agencies nationwide.
There is no national standard for minimum requirements for a police officer, so that decision is left to states and individual departments.
This is the biggest change of the three.
“We decided to shorten the disqualification time frame to six months of no-use before they apply,” said Lt. Jay Swann, the head of recruiting for APD.
Previously, applicants had to be marijuana-free for two years before applying. APD travels across the country to recruit, and the change was made – in part – due to other states legalizing recreational marijuana.
“I can’t justify in my mind how we would disqualify someone who had done something that was legal of the jurisdiction they did it in,” said Lt. Swann. ” I feel by reducing that to 6 months, it would give an applicant the chance to show they’re not dependent on cannabis.”
Once an applicant gets accepted, they have to remain drug free and are subject to drug testing.
By comparison, Round Rock Police still will not allow someone to take an entrance exam if they’ve used or possessed marijuana illegally within the last three years.
The only chance to physical testing is that candidates no longer have to test on a stationary rowing machine.
Recruits still have to meet certain criteria when it comes to push-ups, sit-ups and a mile-and-a-half run.
“It was not necessarily the best tool to assess a candidates fitness,” Lt. Swann said. “Not all candidates may have access to a gym or rower. Rowing is a very technique-specific measurement.”
He added that eliminating the rower requirement also gives the department the ability to more easily recruit on-the-spot while searching for candidates on the road.
APD used to disqualify candidates who had accounts in collections.
That is no longer the case.
“I could find no research that showed that applicants with poor credit or with accounts in collection to be at any greater risk of negative outcomes,” said Lt. Swann.
Meanwhile, Bryan warns exercising caution with applicants who may be struggling with finances.
“We don’t want people who are desperate for money be put in a position of temptation,” he said.
Finding a balance
APD faces crisis-level staffing numbers. According to quarter-four data presented at Monday’s Public Safety Commission meeting, 99 officers retired and 52 resigned. The next cadet class, which starts Oct. 10, only has 50 members as of the posting of this article.
Lt. Swann said while some of these requirements have loosened, the background check process is “very rigorous.”
That’s something Bryan encourages, along with looking at the full picture of an applicant.
“Even if they kind of check all the boxes, you still want to see okay is this person going to be a good fit for the culture of this agency,” he said.
The first class impacted by these changes starts next week. APD said it will take note of how many cadets make it through the academy.