BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Thousands of city residents are expected to take the Buffalo police exam this Saturday.
It’s the first time in years the city has lowered the minimum qualifications for education.
In the past the city required 60 hours of college credit.
But now a high school diploma, GED or equivalency diploma will get you a seat at the exam table.
“This is a dangerous job and you have some people that just don’t want to put their life at risk,” said Officer Christine Wilson, a Rochester police recruiter.
Rochester is among many cities across the nation that don’t require a college education to apply.
“As long as you have that high school diploma or that GED we’re going to accept you,” she said.
Even Rochester’s police union doesn’t see any real problems with recruiting people with only a high school education.
“No, we’ve never had an issue with that,” said Ralph Gagliano, executive vice president of the Rochester Police Locust Club. “To say it’s going to harm you in some way with the quality of candidate, I haven’t seen it in my experience here in 40 plus years in Rochester.”
After years of requiring 60-hours of college credit, Buffalo recently dropped that qualification.
“We wanted to not only be in line with other departments across the country, we wanted to open up more opportunities for city residents,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. “Particularly individuals who might be low income and did not have the ability financially to attend college.”
But lowering the education requirement is not sitting well with some, including Buffalo’s police union.
“It’s one thing to have, to lower your college requirement or your educational requirement for a multitude of jobs out there, alright. But not police work,” said Kevin Kennedy, president of the Buffalo PBA.
About 2,400 city residents applied to take the Buffalo police exam.
Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda is hoping to hire 200 officers over the next two to four years.
“We are still taking the top people from this exam. So the best and brightest who do the best on this exam will be the people who are hired,” he said.
Mayor Brown believes dropping the college requirement will help more city residents compete for a police job that pays between $50,000 and $66,000 a year.
But the PBA’s Kevin Kennedy says dropping the college requirement doesn’t make sense.
“You have citizens, once they become a police officer are sworn in given a badge; given the ability to take somebody’s liberty away. One of the most prized possessions we have in this country. And they’re provided a gun. Ultimately and unfortunately it does happen where police officers are engaged in activities where they must take somebody’s life,” Kennedy said. “So, two of the most critical things that we form our country and our constitution on, you want to give that opportunity to somebody with less education as opposed to requiring more education.”
According to a U.S. Department of Justice report on local police departments, the most common requirement (84 percent of departments) was a high school diploma.
The report states that an estimated 15 percent of departments had some type of college requirement.
“We don’t think that this is going to have any kind of detrimental impact on policing in the city. We think, in fact, it will have a positive effect in terms of getting more city residents the opportunity to have this job; to compete for this job,” Mayor Brown added.
According to the city of Rochester, 463 of 722 officers — about 64 percent of the police department — have some college.
Rochester police officers are encouraged to continue their education once hired.
The city offers financial incentives for college degrees; 2 percent increase for an associate’s degree and 4 percent for a bachelor’s degree.
Buffalo also encourages higher education and offers educational stipends for officers, paying out $350 for an associate’s degree; $700 for a bachelor’s degree, and $900 for a master’s degree.
In total, the department has nearly 60 percent of sworn officers receiving an educational stipend.
Mike Aamodt, a retired Radford University professor based in Virginia, said general research supports that education is important.
“What you find is that better educated officers do better in the academy. They get better performance ratings. They have fewer accidents. Less absenteeism. Fewer discipline problems, said Aamodt, who’s written a book about police selection.
He said the idea of dropping the college credit requirement is unfortunate.
“It puts more of a burden on those departments then to have to offer continuing education which every department does. But it may mean that they’re going to have to do more training in the academy for those skills that you would have received in college.”
While training and education go a long way — it’s a job that also requires some basic qualities.
“It’s just common sense and listening to people, and patience, because not everyone comes from the same background that you do. So you have to sometimes just sit there and understand,” said Jackie Shuman, a Rochester police investigator.
The city of Buffalo has been using a variety of tools to recruit new police officers for Saturday’s exam, including visits to churches, schools and community events.
Applicants are required to provide proof that they have been domiciled and have had continuous residency with the city for 90 days prior to applying for the exam.