Boasting low crime rates and high pay, Long Island's Nassau and Suffolk County Police Departments have long enjoyed a large pool of top-notch potential recruits. Yet now the two forces are concerned about a falloff in recruit quality. "Some recent Long Island police recruits have trouble writing a memo or constructing a proper paragraph," states a February Newsday story. Failure rates at the police academy have jumped into double digits from the 3 to 5 percent that once was the norm. Average academy grades have been falling, despite more extensive remediation.
Police officials blame the drop-off both on a tougher academic program and the surging nineties' economy, which they claim drew into the private sector young people who otherwise might have considered police careers. But the far more likely culprit is watered-down entrance-exam standards. Under pressure from federal racial discrimination suits, both counties have in recent years de-emphasized "cognitive" testing in their entrance exams—that is, assessing potential recruits' ability to read, write, think inferentially, and exercise judgment—in favor of using "personality profiles" assumed to be fairer to minorities. The exams now consist disproportionately of no-brainers like: "When you were in school, were you a member of a sports team?" Right answers are based on a profile of a "successful" cop.
Dramatically lowered entrance requirements will invariably admit lots more poorly qualified recruits of all races, as the NYPD discovered in the 1970s and 80s, when it so watered down its entrance exam that a "functional illiterate" could pass it, as one official famously put it. Many officers hired under the lax standards later wound up embroiled in the police scandals that provoked Mayor Rudy Giuliani to begin raising standards again. Under pressure from the feds, Long Island's police forces seem to be repeating Gotham's mistake.