Memphis businesses have long complained to local government and the Chamber of Commerce that graduates of Memphis City Schools are unprepared to work for them.

University of Memphis has long had special remedial classes for Memphis City Schools graduates.

So what can we do with all of these poorly prepared graduates?

Here’s an idea: Give them badges and guns.

Police Academy II

Or, at least, that’s what Memphis Police Department plans to do as it drops its requirement that recruits have two years of college education. The top cops in Memphis contend that the labor pool is simply too small for such a daunting educational requirement. By way of context, about 40 percent of Shelby Countians have attended some college, and the number of people in our labor pool who have attended some college is roughly 205,000.

But no matter, MPD officials say the police department can teach the recruits what they need to know at the police academy.

The suggestion that police academy training bears any resemblance to a college criminal justice curriculum is laughable, not to mention totally misleading. Comparing what’s taught at the police academy to what’s taught in college is akin to comparing community college to the Ivy League.

The Fourth “R”

Today, a college education is about is more than the three R’s – reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. More to the point, it’s about the fourth R – the one that’s determining whether workers succeed in today’s economy – reasoning.

If most applicants for police jobs are now graduates of Memphis City Schools, eliminating a requirement for two years of college pretty much guarantees that no one will be taking criminal justice classes at U of M or Southwest Tennessee Community College in the future.

So, rather than throwing in the towel and paring back qualifications, how about a modest proposal?

Modest Proposal

Let Memphis Police Department change the policy. In the future, new recruits will only be required to have a high school degree.

But…also require them to get the equivalent of two years of college within their first six years on the force.

Memphis Police Department might even automatically sign them up for classes at Lemoyne-Owen College. After all, City of Memphis is giving the college about $4 million over the next three years. The least the college can do in return for taxpayers is to educate our police officers.

Just Do It

While we don’t discount the MPD’s concern, we are reminded of the comments of a former Memphis mayor two decades ago. When told that by purchasing officials that they couldn’t find any minority businesses for public contracts, the mayor boomed: “You can find purple-haired Eskimos if you wants to find them. This isn’t about a lack of people. It’s about a lack of commitment. If you wanted to find them, you would.”

We don’t want to oversimplify the challenge of recruiting new police officers, but if Memphis Police Department wants to find recruits, it can do it by improving its image so more qualified people will apply and by offering competitive salaries to get them.

Most of all, city police officials should first quit demeaning the jobs it’s trying to fill. That’s exactly what they do when they suggest that a high school degree is just fine for the job of protecting the people of Memphis.

Sadly, there are two public jobs that are perennially treated as if no real skills are required and anybody could do them – teaching and policing. Ufortunately, that’s the dominant message being sent by MPD when it dumbs down its qualifications for new recruits.