NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas is calling for what he referred to as "dramatic changes" in the hiring standards for new recruits.
He said beginning with the next recruit class, all police candidates must have at least 60 hours of college instruction, the equivalent of an associate degree or two years of military service.
Right now, recruits are only required to have a high school diploma or GED.
"We believe the New Orleans Police Department should not be the employer of last resort," Serpas said. "We believe that the New Orleans Police Department should recruit for, retain and train the most qualified educated candidates that we can find."
The chief said more than half of the current pool of candidates meets the new educational requirement. He hopes a better educated workforce will provide better service.
Serpas is trying to root out potential problems as the NOPD deals with a series of hits to its image, including nearly a dozen current and former officers now facing serious civil rights charges and a recent academy class where nearly two thirds of the recruits flunked out.
"I'm terribly disappointed by an academy class that started with 66 people and graduated 25," said Serpas. "I don't think you can be two-thirds wrong by accident."
The watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission supports the new recruitment standards.
MCC President Rafael Goyeneche said higher education equals a more mature, possibly older recruit.
"If we can't fill the void with these increased requirements at the current pay grade, if we up the standards then eventually we may have to up the pay as well if we can't attract enough qualified officers," said Goyeneche.
The new NOPD hiring policy also includes new physical requirements like a timed, 1.5 mile run and a new written exam for the first time in 10 years.
"When I got here, I looked at our recruitment standards and I was not satisfied and I did not think that we were meeting best practices, and I certainly recognize we could do better," Serpas said.
"A better, more literate police recruit becomes a better more literate police officer, and those officers have to be able to accurately portray and recite to writing the events that they witness and experience in their investigations that are presented for prosecutions," said Goyeneche.
The NOPD would be the first city police department in Louisiana to adopt higher recruitment standards.
Serpas presented the new hiring standards to the city's Civil Service Commission on Monday. The board is expected to vote on the matter next month.