MPD changes some requirements, offers signing bonuses to recruit new officers

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In an effort to recruit new officers, the Memphis Police Department is offering signing bonuses and changing some of the requirements to become an officer.

FOX13 has learned this could open the doors to people who have had a brush on the wrong side of the law.

Memphis Police Association President, Lt. Essica Cage, says:

“I’ve never seen anything like (what) the City of Memphis is having to do right now. It just goes to show how hard it is and the competition with other departments we have to go through right now.”

Memphis Police are down about 500 officers, losing *184 to retirement and resignations last year alone, according to the Memphis Police Association, the union that represents police officers in Memphis.

This, at a time when violent crime and homicides are spiraling. It’s a dangerous job.

FOX13 talked to Lt. Cage hours before the memorial to an officer killed in an on-the-job crash. She said,

“A lot of people look at the risk associated with the job and don’t want to take that risk.”

The pay doesn’t help.

Lt. Cage says MPD salaries don’t match up to the higher-paying suburban jobs.

To fight that, MPD is offering a $15,000 sign-on bonus and changing minimum requirements for new recruits.

Hurdles that have kept many people from making the force in the past, like the physical fitness requirement.

Memphis Police Lt. Colonel Sharon Cunningham tells FOX13,

“The physical ability test, instead of it being a timed test, it will not be timed, it will not be pass or fail. it will just be an assessment. "

She says MPD is also cutting the minimum number of college credit hours to 24, down from 54.

Lt. Cage says, “I don’t think it’s lowering standards. It’s just making adjustments to accommodate the current generation.”

But the most controversial change may be in the way MPD is looking at candidate’s police record. Yes, a criminal record.

Many viewers responded to a social media post our reporter made showing several Mid-South police departments are hiring officers.

People said they’d been turned down because of an arrest, even if charges were later cleared.

FOX13 asked Lt. Colonel Sharon Cunningham if the department is willing to consider applicants with a record.

She said, “We are taking a really close look at candidates who have small infractions, whether it’s a criminal record or whether it’s records regarding employment stability or driving history, we’re looking at those, and we’re looking at those on a case by case basis.”

FOX13 checked with the POST Commission, that’s the Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission. A spokesman said any law enforcement agency can ask for a waiver.

Here’s the POST Commission’s criteria for a waiver:

Criminal Activity. The Commission may waive pre-employment requirements relating to criminal activity on an individual basis and depending on the circumstances. 1. The Commission may waive pre-employment requirements for a person who has been convicted of, pleaded guilty to, or entered a plea of nolo contendere to any felony charge of any violation of federal or state laws or city ordinances relating to force, violence (excluding domestic violence), theft, dishonesty, gambling, liquor and other alcoholic beverages, or controlled substances when the offense was classified as a misdemeanor

Click here for more on that information.

Use of controlled substances convictions can only be waived if they are a misdemeanor.

Lt. Cage says this is a good idea as long as it’s not an “integrity” crime.

“I think certain crimes depending on the severity of the crime, when the crime occurred.”

“It may be something that happened 20 years ago, and you’ve been able to overcome that. I think it deserves a look.”

MPD says applicants should be able to show a clean record since, and a steady work history and applications will be considered on a case by case basis.