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Lowered fitness standards for police recruits passes House

Pennsylvania’s latest fix for a dwindling municipal police force will focus on lowering fitness standards to entice recruits.

House Bill 863, which passed the lower chamber 115-88 on Tuesday, would enroll prospective officers into training programs so long as their physical fitness scores rank within the 15th percentile of the Cooper standards. Local agencies may also submit required reading comprehension tests to the state Municipal Police Officer and Training Certification Commission for consideration.

To receive employment certifications, graduates will still have to score at or above the 30th percentile of the standards, which “coincides” with the general population, according to legislative text.

Supporters say the change will expand the pool of municipal police recruits amid a significant rise in vacancies across the state. A 2021 national survey conducted from the Police Executive Research Forum showed a 45% increase in retirements and an 18% increase in resignations over the previous year, said bill sponsor Rep. Dan Williams, D-Thorndale.

The Attorney General’s Office also estimated total vacancies across the state at 1,300.

Critics, however, questioned the necessity of the bill, as well as the lack of input from the commission, whom they say weren’t given a chance to review the proposal before the House Judiciary Committee scheduled a vote last month. They also pointed the finger at lowered morale, particularly in Philadelphia, where officers feel unsupported by department officials.

The Pennsylvania State Police told The Center Square that the Shapiro administration and the agency both support finding solutions to address the shortage of municipal police officers. PSP Commissioner Col. Christopher Paris serves as chairman of the training certification commission.

The agency said applicants will receive training necessary to meet the physical fitness standards and become police officers, noting that they support the legislation as drafted.

At the state level, the administration’s decision to axe the college degree requirement for prospective troopers has spiked applications 258% during its last enrollment period. The interest is so high, the agency said it opened a second hiring round that will close on Jan. 31.

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