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Late last month, KOAT-TV reported that a 34-year-old longtime-resident of Albuquerque who had aspired to become a police officer there since he was a young boy has officially begun his journey toward fulfilling his dream.

In order to become one of the 31 cadets in Class 126, he and three other classmates had to do something the other 27 recruits were not required to do—they had to become citizens of the United States of America.

Abraham Luna was born a Mexican citizen and achieved his American citizenship in February after first obtaining his green card and pass his American citizenship exam.

Luna told KOAT that the process was nerve-wracking and a little like being back in college, but that he hopes to contribute to his Albuquerque community as a member of its police department.

Given the massive staffing shortfalls in departments large and small across the country, some agencies are beginning to specifically look for non-citizen recruits and trainees.

Amending (or Ending) Requirements

Like in Albuquerque, most places require candidates to become American citizens first, but some are considering waiving that prerequisite.

Earlier this year, the California State Senate passed a proposal that "would remove the provision that requires peace officers to either be a citizen of the United States or be a permanent resident who is eligible for and has applied for citizenship, and would instead require peace officers be legally authorized to work in the United States," according to OpenStates, a website that tracks proposed legislation across the country.

The California bill—SB 960—has now moved on to the Assembly, where it awaits a vote that is very likely to pass, and would apply to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program as well as non-citizens who are "designated as asylees and refugees with current work authorization."

Some local jurisdictions already have made such accommodations. For example, the Chicago Police Department will allow any immigrant with a work authorization from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to become an officer. This is also true for many local agencies throughout the state of Hawaii.

The Cincinnati Police Department requires only that officers have a pending citizenship application on file with the federal government. Other agencies in the country require potential recruits be legal permanent residents or green-card holders.

Keeping (or Increasing) Standards

Agencies must be insistent that ending (or amending) citizenship requirements does not—in any way whatsoever—lead to a lowering professional, personal, physical, emotional, ethical, or other standards to which officers are held. The regular battery of pre-screening interviews and background investigations must be rigorously conducted. Every existing written, fitness, drug, psychological, and polygraph test must be kept in place and lines of pass/fail stringently enforced.

Lowering basic standards for potential applicants is a dangerously wrongheaded idea. It can lead to countless problems for the agency as a whole, and individual officers already in the ranks. Even one "bad apple" among new recruits could cause officer safety problems, ruin public trust, and put the department at risk of other liability.

Some elected leaders have pressured agencies to lower hiring standards as a way of filling the ever-growing gaps in staffing. This is the wrong approach. In order to attract, select, and retain qualified officers with the values and skillsets necessary for the job of law enforcement, standards must be maintained. But there may be people like Abraham Luna—eager not only for citizenship, but to serve their fellow citizens—in an as-yet largely untapped resource of new officers to fill the ranks.

In a time when many of the most appealing cadre of "traditional" candidates are electing other career avenues, it may be a useful enterprise to examine people who are new to this country—not in America necessarily by birth, but by choice—among potential police officers.

Author

Doug Wyllie
Doug Wyllie

Contributing Editor

Doug Wyllie has authored thousands of feature articles, opinion columns, news reports, and tactical tips with the goal of ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

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Doug Wyllie has authored thousands of feature articles, opinion columns, news reports, and tactical tips with the goal of ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

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