August 26, 2023

Changing hiring standards can be an uphill battle


PERF members,

As I wrote two weeks ago, I think agencies need to take another look at hiring standards that may be outdated as they look to hire the officers of the future. But in some cases, local agencies have their hands tied by state law. Nebraska’s Police Standards Advisory Council recently recommended the state change its requirements regarding previous drug use for police officer recruits. Under state law, new recruits cannot have used marijuana in the previous two years and cannot have used narcotics or other “dangerous drugs” in the previous five years. The proposed change would have decreased those time periods to one year for marijuana and three years for narcotics and “dangerous drugs.” Unfortunately, Governor Jim Pillen rejected the proposal.

I spoke about this issue with Omaha Chief Todd Schmaderer, who supported the change.


Omaha Chief Todd Schmaderer

Chuck Wexler: Tell me about the proposed change to Nebraska state law.

Chief Todd Schmaderer: The Omaha Police Department is part of the national police hiring crisis. We’re down 10 percent, like a lot of the major cities are. In order to be an Omaha police officer or any law enforcement officer in the state of Nebraska, you cannot have used marijuana or any derivative of it — it could be illegal Delta-8 or illegal Delta-9 — within two years. So what was happening in Omaha time and time again is our candidates would go to the polygraph, admit to the use of Delta-8 or Delta-9, and then we’d have to disqualify the candidates even if they were stellar on all other aspects.

We pitched for the state to relax the standards so we could try to massage the hiring crisis we’re in. It was rejected by the governor’s office. That has hampered our ability to hire, because a lot of the other states across the country have recognized that we can still have good standards and hiring practices without this two-year hiring requirement in place. If I thought it was lowering my standards for hiring, I wouldn’t even consider it. These are very good candidates that, unbeknownst to them, have precluded themselves for two years.

Wexler: And this is just one aspect of the totality of their backgrounds, right?

Chief Schmaderer: It’s just one aspect. Far too often, we’re finding that that one small disqualifier has eliminated at least 6 to 10 percent of our candidates in every hiring class. It’s become a problem for us as we’re trying to make up for 100 officers we need right now.

Wexler: Do you find it ironic that you, a police chief, are pushing for more leniency in these drug use restrictions?

Chief Schmaderer: I do find it ironic. The other irony I’d note is that I like honesty in my candidates, and these candidates are coming in and being honest. They’re saying, “Chief, I took a Delta-8 at a party and I didn’t realize it was going to preclude me from employment.” And they honestly told me about it and now I have to preclude them. It seems counterproductive to the honesty standard we’re trying to impart all across law enforcement.

Wexler: Meanwhile, 23 states have legalized marijuana at the state level. Is it possible you could get a candidate from another state who used marijuana there, then comes to Nebraska?

Chief Schmaderer: That’s the second piece we see quite a bit. Again, it will be in the interview process. They’ll say, “Yes, I used marijuana. I was in Colorado six months ago with friends and family and I partook in marijuana. I’m not a user. I don’t take it regularly.” And then I cannot hire that employee.

We were simply asking the state to take this two-year window out and let us vet that employee to see whether or not they’re suited for this employment. In both those examples I gave you, every police department across the country would want to hire these individuals. And they will wait for us sometimes. I’ll hire them later, when that two-year window is up, and they’ll go on to be tremendous employees for us. This is an unnecessary hurdle that I think is a little bit blind to the fact that we’re in a hiring crisis.

Wexler: Do you lose most of the candidates who are told they have to wait two years?

Chief Schmaderer: We probably lose 80 percent of those. They’ll go to other law enforcement agencies outside of the state or they’ll divert from the profession. And it’s an unnecessary loss.

Chief Schmaderer addressing a class of recruits

Thank you to Chief Schmaderer for taking the time to share his experience. I really admire his leadership and candor on this issue. Countless chiefs have told me about similar circumstances in which they’ve identified strong candidates who admit to drug use and are automatically disqualified. I agree with Chief Schmaderer when he says that we should prioritize honesty when evaluating candidates.

I know some will read this and think we’re lowering standards by overlooking past drug use. But the profession hasn’t carefully measured which requirements make for a good cop, whether it’s past drug use or the ability to do 20 sit-ups in a minute. I think times are changing and we need to do more research on what makes a good cop. In the meantime, we should look at candidates’ entire life experiences and character when determining who should become police officers.

I also want to highlight two recent articles from our Daily Clips that I hope you’ll have time to read. The first is a ProPublica article about how social media may be driving violence among young people. Reporter Alec MacGillis also spoke with NPR about the issue.

The second is a Los Angeles Times article about the LAPD’s plan to use AI to analyze officers’ body-worn camera footage. I’m going to speak with LAPD Chief Michel Moore about this plan for next week’s Trending column.

Finally, some of you have asked about our Town Hall Meeting at this year’s IACP Conference in San Diego. We will be holding our Town Hall from 1:00-5:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 15 in Ballroom 20 A-D in the San Diego Convention Center. Immediately following the Town Hall, from 5:00-7:00 p.m., we will hold a reception outside Ballroom 20. And PERF’s booth will be #2149 in the Exposition Hall. Click here for more information about these events.

Have a fantastic weekend!