E.P. Council backs proposal revising police application process

Change would require candidate to have a high school degree at minimum

By Mike Rego
Posted 6/17/21

EAST PROVIDENCE After struggling in recent years to garner interest from a quantity of candidates, never mind quality, the process of how the East Providence Police Department fills out its ranks …

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E.P. Council backs proposal revising police application process

Change would require candidate to have a high school degree at minimum

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE After struggling in recent years to garner interest from a quantity of candidates, never mind quality, the process of how the East Providence Police Department fills out its ranks soon will change.

The City Council, at its June 15 forum, unanimously gave the first of two necessary affirmative votes on an update to Part II of the Revised City Ordinances, Chapter 12 subsection 18-6, “Police,” on qualifications necessary to apply to become an East Providence Police officer.

At the body’s meeting earlier in June, Elmer Pina, the city’s Affirmative Action Officer/Human Services Director, joined Director Gonsalves in urging the council to consider changing existing language.

Last week, the council agreed, removing the following text, “The applicant must have an education at least equal to the completion of an associate degree (60 credit hours) from an accredited college or university. Two years of honorable active military service or four years of reserve or national guard duty may be substituted for the educational requirements. Likewise, certification from the state municipal police academy as municipal police officer, or three years of satisfactory employment as a correctional officer may be substituted for the educational requirement.”

In its place and upon second approval, an EPPD applicant “must have an education at least or equal to a high school diploma or GED.” The completion of an associates degree or 60 college credit hours will no longer be a requirement.

Messrs. Pina and Gonsalves told the council the difficulty in new officer recruitment is not just a local problem, but national in scope.

Mr. Gonsalves said the administration had been discussing the situation for the last several months, attempting to come up with a revised philosophy and strategy.

Mr. Pina said the city will be enhancing its engagement with the community, reaching out to potential recruits through high school schools and colleges as well as social media platforms while also continuing to draw upon minority and female candidates.

The change in the qualifications, Mr. Pina emphasized, was not an attempt to “dumb down” the pool, but rather to “widening” it. He noted other like municipalities such as Cranston recently made the same change to its process and in Warwick the 60 college credit requirement had been reduced to 30 in either law enforcement or criminal justice.

At both meetings, Mr. Pina said candidates will receive additional points towards consideration if they did, in fact, have some college credits or if, for instance, they spoke or wrote in another language.

Asked by Ward 4 member Ricardo Mourato, himself a Bristol Police Officer, if the department was in agreement with the proposed changes, East Providence Police Chief William Nebus said it was, mostly out of necessity.

“Unfortunately we have to be,” Chief Nebus explained. “We see the drawback to it. There’s an inverse relationship with use of force and education level. We don’t want to put the perception out there that this is not important to us. But we’re not getting the applicants anymore. The most recent valedictorian of the police academy was not eligible to apply to the City of East Providence for being three to six credits short of the 60 credit requirement.

"We just want to open ourselves up to a bigger pool of applicants. It doesn’t mean they’re going to be accepted. They’re still going to be scrutinized. And we’re still going to vet them the same way.”

Mr. Mourato, who leads the BPD recruitment effort, echoed Chief Nebus’ remarks, saying his organization, as others around the state, also altered its requirements to enlarge the group of prospective hires.

“There’s been a steady decrease of applicants nationwide for many years now,” Mr. Mourato continued. “When I applied, as I mentioned last time, there were 600-plus for two positions. Right now in my department we have about 50 applicants. I expected maybe 80. And I think 95 percent are high school (graduates) or GED equivalent.”

In response to negative responses from some residents, Mr. Mourato said, “What I did point out was that although there is a degree requirement, it’s any degree. It’s not even for law enforcement to begin with. So what does that have to do with this argument.”

Chief Nebus, on a related note, said it remains in Rhode Island General Law that a police officer can be reimbursed for continuing education through receiver their masters degree.

EPPD recruitment officer Captain Floyd Gardner recounted his personal history, saying he did not have the requisite college credits when he applied to be an officer in the city, although he did serve in the military and with the U.S. Marshals prior to joining the department.

“With changing the educational requirement, you open up the pool,” Capt. Gardner said. "Historically, minorities would have a lower percentage of degrees, so you’re going to open up that pool.

One key existing aspect for employment of nubile officers is still in place. All recent hires initially maintain their positions during a one-year probationary period with quarterly reviews, an element written into the current contract between the police union and the city.

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