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Police wanted, training optional

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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: A survey by the Associated Press has turned up surprising information concerning some of the nation's police departments. The poll found that certain police stations around the country allow new recruits an on-the-job grace period between six months to two years before entering a police academy. Here's Marketplace's Jeff Tyler with more.


JEFF TYLER: Like many other small towns in America, McComb, Mississippi, population 15,000, struggles to recruit new police officers.

The works is often dangerous, the hours lousy.

Billie Hughes is the chief of police.

BILLIE HUGHES: Police doesn't pay that good in smaller towns. They can make more money doing something else.

The state pays for academy tuition, but only if the cadet completes the course.

To help minimize drop-outs, Mississippi lets departments test new recruits in the field, working under the supervision of experienced officers. That gives the prospective employer and employee the chance to see if it's a good fit.

A rookie can lawfully wear a badge and gun for two years before attending the police academy for basic training. But while it may be legal, Chief Hughes says he doesn't use untrained cops.

HUGHES: I don't think it's fair to the public or to the police officer to put him out there until he is fully trained.

Other police chiefs interviewed for in the AP survey said the on-the-job grace periods are a necessity brought on by shrinking budgets.

JOHN FIRMAN: Resources to local law enforcement have been knocked down and been getting cut down over the past several years.

That's John Firman with the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

FIRMAN: What you're seeing here in this AP poll is decisions being made to maximize resources, even pre-academy.

Critics say some departments use the grace period to cover-up nepotism, giving out jobs to people without the physical or intellectual qualifications.

Again, Mississippi Police Chief Hughes.

HUGHES: I know in some of the rural counties, I have heard of people working up to the two years, and then they're dismissed and six months later, they hire them again. The old good-ole-boy system, and it's still in every state.

The AP survey found 30 states allow grace periods for untrained cops.

It's a practice that could lead to big lawsuits as people blame untrained police officers for injuries and wrongful deaths. Some suits have already resulted in multi-million dollar settlements.

In Los Angeles, I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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