There are still many questions surrounding what exactly went so wrong inside of the Memphis Police Department leading up to the death of Tyre Nichols. One piece of the puzzle may have been revealed this week, however, as detailed in a recent report from the Associated Press. Shortly after the release of the horrific video of the beating Nichols received, I asked how officers with so little experience wound up on the elite violent crime task force they were assigned to. (The officers all had only two to five years of experience on the force.) As it turns out, the Memphis PD had been woefully understaffed for several years and had lowered its required qualifications to the point where almost anyone who wasn’t currently in jail could be hired.
Former Memphis police recruiters told The Associated Press of a growing desperation to fill hundreds of slots in recent years that drove the department to increase incentives and lower its standards.
“They would allow just pretty much anybody to be a police officer because they just want these numbers,” said Alvin Davis, a former lieutenant in charge of recruiting before he retired last year out of frustration. “They’re not ready for it.”
The department offered new recruits $15,000 signing bonuses and $10,000 relocation allowances while phasing out requirements to have either college credits, military service or previous police work. All that’s now required is two years’ work experience — any work experience.
As you can see in the excerpt above, less than a decade ago, applicants to the police academy had to have some relevant military or law enforcement experience or at least an educational background related to the field. But the standards were lowered so far that they were taking people who had two years of experience at any job at all, even if they worked in accounting or stocked grocery store shelves. And they were dangling five-figure bonuses to lure people in.
Memphis established a system of state waivers allowing them to hire people with criminal records. That brings us back to previous questions that were raised regarding the possibility that some of the officers involved in Nichols’ death could have had ties to a local gang. They also lifted the physical fitness requirements for applicants because “too many people were failing.” They even processed an application from a stripper. (She didn’t wind up being hired, however.)
So why was all of this happening? Like too many other cities, Memphis began hemorrhaging police officers a few years ago during the height of the “defund the police” movement. The police department’s resources were cut and the municipal government began treating its officers like the bad guys instead of the gang-bangers they were supposed to be chasing. One former officer that the AP spoke with said he had retired early “in disgust” over what was happening to the force. Many others followed his example.
This left the Memphis PD critically understaffed and crime rates, including murders and other violent crimes, began to rise almost immediately. By the time the city was forced to try to roll back those trends, there simply weren’t enough qualified, motivated applicants willing to sign up to be cops. And now we’ve all seen the results.