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Memphis Police Relaxed Hiring Standards Before Nichols Beating

Years before the brutal police beating of Tyre Nichols, the Memphis Police Department relaxed academic, disciplinary and fitness standards at its training academy in an effort to fill widespread vacancies. That opened the door for the hiring of officers who could become dangerous liabilities, nine current and former officers who recruited and trained academy students tell the Washington Post. After the city cut pension benefits in 2014, and as high-profile police misconduct cases soured public opinion of the profession, many officers left the department, and fewer applicants expressed interest, according to department statistics and interviews with current and former officers. Hoping to boost admissions, the department said in 2018 that it would defer college credit requirements for recruits, allowing applicants with high school diplomas and multiple years of work experience to join the force and pledge to attend college later. The city announced a $15,000 signing bonus for police recruits in 2021. Last year, the department said it was adjusting qualifying marks in fitness in an effort to exclude fewer applicants.

Additional changes were made but not announced publicly. The academy became more lenient in grading, and students were allowed more chances to retake exams — including at the shooting range — after failures that would have led to dismissal under previous rules, the current and former officers said. Incidents of cheating did not always trigger dismissal, as in the past. Struggling students were invited to study sessions in which they were taught upcoming test material straight from exam books. The broad overhaul was implemented by then-Police Chief Michael Rallings and his successor, Chief Cerelyn Davis, under the direction of Mayor Jim Strickland. It resulted in larger class sizes at the academy while maintaining high graduation rates for recruits, including the five officers charged with murder in connection with Nichols’s death in January. Veteran officers involved in training and supervising new hires said the changes created conditions that made incidents like the Nichols beating more likely. “They baby these recruits and do everything they can to help them pass the tests so they don’t lose the body,” said Brian McNamee, a former Memphis police lieutenant and supervisor of training for the department from 2019 to 2021. “That’s a problem. If somebody can’t pass the tests and can’t grasp the material, you don’t want them on the streets policing you.”


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