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State Police Won't Relax Standards Just To Fill Ranks

Pennsylvania State Police are short more than 400 officers with hundreds more retirements on the way, officials said Monday, but recruitment and retention in recent years continues to plummet.

Police recruiter Cpl. Brian Carpenter said tough background checks, college education or military experience  requirements and the recent, high-profile backlash against police in general has given potential applicants pause despite a state budget cushion that could support scores of new hires.

“I think that sometimes even the good people say, ‘I don’t know if I’m willing to go ahead make the sacrifices that it takes to become a Pennsylvania state trooper’ or (join) law enforcement in general,” Carpenter told Essential Pittsburgh on Monday.

Pennsylvania State Police are also forbidden from having a tattoo that would show while wearing a short-sleeved uniform shirt, which has become a growing problem as the prevalence of tattoos grows among younger generations.

To be accepted to the academy, applicants must be between the ages of 21 and 40 at the time they begin, be U.S. citizens (but not necessarily a Pennsylvania resident), pass a written exam and be able to do 13 push ups and run 1.5 miles in 17 minutes and 48 seconds.

But, Carpenter said, those physical requirements are just a baseline.

“You are out there training every day in all kinds of weather,” Carpenter said. “You might do calisthenics in the gym for an hour prior to going into ground defense or boxing, and I think that catches a lot of people. They see those standards and how the bar is set very low and they don’t prepare appropriately for when they get to the real challenging portion.”

Beyond fitness, Carpenter said what state police need most are “good people.”

“We can get anyone to get their 60 college credits," he said. "We can get them through the physical readiness test, things like that, but making good choices throughout your life and being able to go through the background and the polygraph, which is intense, that’s probably the biggest thing.”

Despite problems finding and graduating new recruits, Carpenter said there are no plans to lower the standards. The tattoo standard, however, was instituted by a past superintendent and could change under a new administration, he said.