Two of the five Memphis police officers fired and charged with fatally beating Tyre Nichols were hired after the department loosened its hiring requirements, highlighting concerns that police departments should not rush to fill open positions with people who might not be qualified.
Tadarrius Bean and Demetrius Haley both joined the force in 2020 as it was experiencing a major staffing crunch and had dropped a requirement that recruits have an associate’s degree or 54 college credits, reports said.
Officers Desmond Mills, Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith were hired before the department changed its requirement in 2018 to say recruits needed to have a full-time job for five years and would need to complete their associate’s within four years, Action News 5 reported
“They’re desperate. They want police officers,” Mike Alcazar, an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told the New York Post of police departments loosening hiring requirements. “They’re going through it, they check off some boxes, saying, ‘OK, they’re good enough, get them on.’
“Police departments have to take the screening process of candidates to be police officers seriously and not rush to hire officers that might not be qualified,” the retired NYPD detective added.
Nichols was pulled over Jan. 7 for “reckless driving” and allegedly attempted to run from officers.
“While attempting to take the suspect into custody, another confrontation occurred; however, the suspect was ultimately apprehended,” MPD said. “Afterward the suspect complained of having shortness of breath, at which point an ambulance was called to the scene.”
Bodycam and streetlamp-camera footage released Friday show a group of Memphis officers repeatedly beating Nichols as they work to restrain him.
Nichols ultimately died three days later in a hospital.
Police leaders have spoken out against the incident following the release of the footage, including Fraternal Order of Police President Patrick Yoes.
“The event as described to us does not constitute legitimate police work or a traffic stop gone wrong,” Yoes said in a statement last week.
“This is a criminal assault under the pretext of law,” Yoes added. “The Memphis Police Department terminated the five officers who participated in this heinous attack. The district attorney and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation have completed the investigation, arrested the former officers, and charged them with second-degree murder.”
The five officers are each facing counts of second-degree murder; aggravated assault, act in concert; two counts of aggravated kidnapping; two counts of official misconduct; and official oppression.
Although Bean and Haley were hired in August 2020, the others joined the force before the reforms, according to NBC. Martin and Smith were hired in March 2018, and Mills was hired in March 2017, the outlet reported.
The department has been facing staffing issues in recent years, losing 184 officers in 2021 to retirement and resignations, and reported a 500-officer deficit in January of last year, Fox 13 previously reported.
To bolster recruiting efforts, the department announced signing bonuses of $15,000 to new recruits, a $5,000 referral bonus for officers and a retention bonus of up to 9% for five years, Action News 5 reported last year.
The department also again lowered its hiring standards, doing away with a timed physical ability test in favor of an untimed test that serves as an assessment instead of a pass or fail test, Fox 13 reported. It also again lowered its college education requirements from 54 college credit hours to 24.
“I don’t think it’s lowering standards. It’s just making adjustments to accommodate the current generation” Memphis Police Association President Lt. Essica Cage told Fox 13 at the time.
Lowering hiring standards at police departments has become increasingly more common since 2020, when Black Lives Matter and activists called for police departments nationwide to be defunded following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The anti-police sentiment spurred cops from coast to coast to resign en masse or retire, while recruiting efforts have stalled for many departments as potential hires look to less dangerous and controversial career paths.
In addition to Alcazar, other former and current officers have spoken out against lowering hiring standards for police departments, advising the various forces considering such plans to carefully weigh the decision.
“It goes much deeper than just college. We’re talking about lowering standards for previous criminal conduct for previous drug use. These things need be looked at very, very carefully,” Fraternal Order of Police Vice President Joe Gamaldi told News Nation Now in March.
Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said last year that being a police officer has “become much more demanding, complicated, sophisticated,” and that “you need to hire the best and the brightest.”
Departments across the country have made changes amid staffing issues. The Chicago police department announced last year that it was waiving its 60 college credit hour requirement in favor of three years of experience in certain career fields to entice more recruits. The New Orleans Police Department also overhauled its hiring process last year, as the city was ravaged by a sky-high homicide rate not seen in decades, to include civilians and people who have used marijuana in the last year.
Other cities grappling with staffing shortages, such as Seattle, have resisted loosening hiring requirements, with Police Chief Adrian Diaz saying last year that the force “won’t hire just anyone” in order to fill positions.
“Despite our current staffing crisis, this is not a numbers game. Our mission is simply to help people, so we will hire only the most compassionate, dedicated, and qualified employees,” he said at the time.
The five former Memphis police officers are slated to appear for a bond arraignment on Feb. 17, according to court documents.
Memphis police did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment on its recent changes to hiring requirements.
Fox News’ Adam Sabes and David Spunt contributed to this article