Soon You Can Be a Portland Cop With a GED and a Neck Tattoo

PPB to allow applicants with beards, and no college education, citing a “critical staffing shortage”

Do you have a beard, neck tattoos and a GED, but no college education? Congratulations: Later this year, you can apply to be a police officer with the Portland Police Bureau.

With 128 vacant officer spots and a projection of a large number of retirements in 2020, the Portland Police Bureau has announced that it will be relaxing its hiring requirements, which had previously forbade beards, tattoos "above the collar line" and had required two-year degrees or two years of military or law enforcement experience.

The Portland Tribune first reported Wednesday on the bureau's policy change, and PPB announced the decision shortly afterward.

"These changes to policies were made after careful review of our hiring process in the attempt to identify potential barriers to entry," said Chief Danielle Outlaw in the press release. "We will revisit the effectiveness of these changes after two years to determine if our hiring numbers have increased.

Related: The Portland Police Bureau Needs Officers. It Squandered Two Dozen of Them.

The decision is a reversal of previous bureau decisions. It comes with some risks—particularly findings that correlate a lack of upper education with an increased use of force.

One peer-reviewed 2008 study found that educated officers are less likely to use force, though with some caveats. The paper stated that more educated officers may "possess the aptitude to manage or deescalate such circumstances so as to minimize the necessity for deadly force."

And another peer-reviewed study from 2007 with similar results adds a caveat. Their results showed that job experience ended up being more important when it came to reducing how often force was used in everyday encounters.

"Regardless of the educational level of the officer, more experience leads to less force, both verbal and physical," states the study. "However, although having education and experience both affect force usage, there is no added value in having both as the interaction models show. In other words, having either education or experience leads to less force."

Officers pursuing degrees and those who already have bachelor's degrees or the equivalent will still get some benefits, states the bureau, such as higher pay and a chance to opt out of the bureau's hiring test.

These changes will align the bureau with Oregon state standards for certifying law enforcement, which require officers to earn at least a high school diploma or GED.

"To remain competitive, PPB will place emphasis on transferable skills, relevant life experience, and bureau-specific standards that can lead to qualified individuals, wrote Outlaw on June 14, in an email the Tribune obtained, explaining her decision to officers.

"There will always be recruitment challenges," Outlaw continued, "but I am confident by broadening our candidate options, it will expose the PPB in ways that make us stronger."