Pennsylvania State Police loosens college requirement amid looming trooper shortage

PSP loosens colleege requirement

Incoming cadets will no longer have to obtain an associate's degree or 60 hours of college credit prior to applying to the Pennsylvania State Police Academy, the agency announced Tuesday.  The move is part of a number of changes designed to boost recruitment amid an anticipated wave of trooper retirements and flagging enrollment.  "This change gives applicants greater flexibility when planning for their career with the Pennsylvania State Police," Commissioner Tyree C. Blocker said, in a written statement.  "The change, while not lowering standards, allows individuals to continue their education while in the application process."  Blocker said cadets would still be required to meet the education requirement before training began.  Hundreds of troopers are expected to retire this year as those who graduated from the academy during a hiring wave in the early '90s become eligible for retirement.  In Pennsylvania, state troopers may retire with a partial pension after 20 years of service or a full pension after 25 years.  Last year, the academy's four cadet classes graduated a total of 271 new troopers at the same time that 800 others reached retirement age. That level of incoming troopers fell far behind 2015's four classes, which graduated 406.  It typically takes cadets between a year and 18 months to move through the process, from application through graduation from the academy.  This year, 800 troopers become eligible to retire as 350 cadets are expected to replenish the ranks. Meanwhile, a new administration has set about improving diversity in an agency that has seen its share of nonwhite troopers dwindle from 12 percent in 1999 to about 6 percent today.  Earlier this month, the state police eliminated a requirement that all recruits pass a lie-detector test.  State police officials previously told PennLive that the polygraphs were comprehensive enough that they could snag prospective cadets on minor infractions they thought were well behind them.  The move garnered criticism among the rank-and-file, as well as from the union that represents current troopers.  Other requirements have not changed.  Cadets must be at least 20 years old when they complete the application.  In order to be appointed to the academy, they must be between 21 and 40 years old.  They must also take a written and oral examination.  After those preliminary steps, cadets move on to a background check, physical testing and medical and psychological evaluations.  Cadets who make it to the 27-week training program at the academy earn a $1,200 biweekly salary.  The starting salary for troopers is set at $58,962.

2/3/17

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Governor Eric Greitens names Sandy Karsten as first women to lead Missouri Highway Patrol

 MSP First female Colonel

Gov. Eric Greitens on Wednesday named Lt. Col. Sandy Karsten as the new chief of the Missouri Highway Patrol, the first woman to hold the position in the patrol’s 81-year history.  As lieutenant colonel, Karsten has served as the second-ranking patrol officer under Nixon appointee Col. Bret Johnson, who has retired.  She began her career as a trooper, and is now tasked with overseeing more than 1,000 uniformed officers.  Making the announcement after speaking to new recruits, Greitens highlighted both Karsten's experience and volunteer work in the community, saying Karsten has “led at every level with courage and commitment.”  He also reiterated his support for law enforcement – a priority he’s highlighted since becoming chief executive on Jan. 9, pushing for an alert system to help locate those who’ve harmed officers and tough criminal penalties for harming officers.  "I am always going to stand with our law enforcement officers on the front lines," Greitens said.

2/2/17

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Colonel Ann C. Assumpico formally sworn in Monday as Rhode Island's new state police superintendent

RISP First Colonel

Amid a swirl of pomp and ceremony that included bagpipers, drummers, three of her predecessors and most of the state's elected officials, Col. Ann C. Assumpico was formally sworn Monday as the new state police superintendent.  An audience of more than 500 people, dozens of them in the uniforms of Rhode Island's local police departments, filled a third-floor ballroom at the Convention Center to witness Assumpico's swearing in.  Gov. Gina N. Raimondo promoted Assumpico in November from captain in charge of the state police training.  The governor said that training experience meant the new superintendent would be well-positioned to improve the department's recruiting diversity while, after nearly a quarter-century in the department, being able to address its other needs as well.  "This is a woman who has decades of experience and knows how to do the job," Raimondo said.  The 11 a.m. ceremony, which included an honor guard and the drums and bagpipers of the Rhode Island Highlanders Pipe Band, lasted more than an hour.  Assumpico remained for more than an hour after that to stand in a receiving line to accept congratulations and pose for pictures with well-wishers.  Those who spoke included Raimondo, Assumpico's brother-in-law and two of her mentors, former state warden Albert Gardner and retired state police superintendent Edmond S. Culhane.  Assumpico is the first woman chosen to head the state police, capping a so-far 24-year career with the force.  Before joining the state police Assumpico, 59, was a corrections officer at the Adult Correctional Institutions and a Coventry police officer.  Her predecessor, Steven G. O'Donnell, also started as a corrections officer.  Gardner told of the time he was directing the corrections department's training program and Assumpico was one of his trainees.  The class had to rappel down the side of the tower at the state police firefighting training center.  "Her eyes y.  were as big as saucers," Gardner said, recalling the look on Assumpico's face when told she had to leap out of the tower window.  "But she did it over and over until she was laughing on the way down," he said.  Her brother-in-law Arthur L. Serpa said no one who knew her questioned her drive, but said she also has compassion.  He remembered a time when she had issued a traffic citation that could have cost a man his license, and the ability to get to work at Electric Boat.  She went to the hearing, he said, and asked the judge allow the man to be able to drive to and from work.  Assumpico spoke of how, when she started in law enforcement, the chances of a woman leading the state police had seemed remote.  But she said her ascension sent a message to all potential recruits that with competence and a willingness to work, it was possible.  She noted that in the audience of hundreds who filled the Convention Center Ballroom for the ceremony were beside law enforcement officers, senators, congressmen, mayors and judges.  She said that showed that the state police was not the province of one colonel, but that it is entwined with other agencies and organizations.  "This position is not held by one person alone," she said.

2/2/17

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Oklahoma trooper Brian Costanza recounts details about end of Vance manhunt

OKSP Shootout

There's a look of calm on Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Brian Costanza's face as he reaches into his backseat and grabs his AR-15 rifle and presses on the accelerator.  Costanza's eyes are focused on the farm truck tearing down a dark country road ahead of him as he readies his weapon and begins to fire through his own windshield.  By now many Oklahomans have seen the dashcam footage of Costanza chasing down Michael Vance, who during an 8-day October manhunt killed two family members, wounded three lawmen, and a motorist during an attempted carjacking.  And while the video shows the last moments of Vance's life and offers a close-up view of one of the men who ended it, it only hints at the years of training and discipline that led up to that now infamous gunfight.  “You don't rise to the occasion; you fall to your training,” Costanza said while standing on a jujitsu mat in a private gym just east of downtown Okmulgee.  Costanza trains here most days with fellow troopers and young men interested in jujitsu.  He likes the methodical nature of the sport, which just moments before had him locked arm and arm, leg to leg with another trooper, their faces bright red in the brief moments of pause before one of them tries to gain a dominant position over the other.  Rigorous, daily training, Costanza said, can be the difference between him and a fugitive killer like Vance.   “Some officers put on that gun and badge and they think they know it all,” Costanza said, a police scanner on a nearby table echoing through the small building.  “If you have that mindset of ‘I know everything, I don't need to learn anything else,' then you're going to get left behind.  Unfortunately, in our line of work that can mean death.”  He looks over at two men grappling on the mat a few feet from him and smiles.  “This mat will humble you.”  Costanza is one of the lucky ones who pretty much always knew what he wanted to be when he grew up.  It was a chance meeting with a state trooper as a young child that solidified his commitment to becoming an officer himself.  A highway patrolman responded to a wreck involving one of his family's horses, and Costanza said he will never forget seeing the trooper walk through their stables.  “He had his hat on and everything like that, and I was just amazed, infatuated,” Costanza said.  After a year on the Okmulgee police department, Costanza made it through the trooper academy and joined the patrol in 2002.  He's been on the highway patrol's tactical team, which responds to elevated threats, since 2006.  Costanza carries himself with a natural confidence that belies his belief in constant self-assessment and preparation.  He trains daily, eats well, and studies case law that deals with lethal force, which is what he and his colleagues on the tactical team were discussing the day before they ended Vance's life.  “As we're talking around this deal, that was one of the things we were talking about,” Costanza said as he patrolled Okmulgee on a crisp January afternoon.  “I know I've got a double murderer in front of me who at that time had already shot two cops and an innocent civilian at a carjacking, is it reasonable to believe that if I let him get away that he's going to leave and hurt more people?”  Costanza left Okmulgee sometime after 9 p.m. on the night of October 30, hoping to be far enough west to provide assistance if Vance was spotted.  Vance shot and wounded Dewey County Sheriff Clay Sander that evening, and Costanza soon found himself leading the chase.  After Costanza fired a hole through his windshield, he carefully squeezed off several rounds, which can be seen in night vision footage captured from a helicopter, bursting off the headache rack of Vance's stolen farm truck.  “After the very first round, I said to myself ‘It's really loud in here. ' It was absolutely deafening. I kept firing, and it was just ringing and I couldn't even understand what was going on (over) the radio.”   Later that evening, his ears still filled with a piercing ring, Costanza would notice that the heat from his rifle had melted his dashboard.  That, coupled with the 11 bullet holes Vance left in Costanza's Tahoe, would cause the department to decommission the patrol unit.  Vance was nearing another roadblock ahead, and Costanza was focused on ending the threat.  “When I started shooting I was hoping I was going to kill him,” he said.  “That was my full intention.  I want to end him right this second, because if I don't, if I can't get him to stop, then he's going to go down the road and he's going to have the ability to engage my partners at this next roadblock and there's a high probability one of them is going to have serious bodily injury or death.”  After stopping and letting the farm truck slowly idle in reverse, Vance stood in front of the truck as it crept toward a line of officers and fired his AK-47.  “I wanted to get out of this vehicle, because it was a coffin,” Costanza said.  Costanza stepped out of his patrol unit, and he and his colleagues opened fire.  Vance's figure can be seen in the helicopter's footage hitting the pavement.

2/1/17

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Pennsylvania State Troopers' tattoos become a focal point of negotiations

PSP tattoos

The two-page email that landed in the inboxes of top commanders at the Pennsylvania State Police last summer was ominous.  “Due to recent reports of members acquiring tattoos without authorization,” the July 8 message directed, “a staff inspection is ordered.”  The email was from Lt. Col. Lisa Christie, a top deputy to state police Commissioner Tyree C. Blocker.  She wanted every trooper rounded up and examined for any body tattoos visible when officers wear the agency’s short-sleeved summer uniform.  Col. Christie’s email told commanders to include pictures and detailed spreadsheets when reporting the results.  The sudden and furious crackdown at the agency resulted in body checks for hundreds of officers, and has now become the focus of heated negotiations between Mr. Blocker and the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, which represents the more than 4,000 troopers.  They are battling over how to deal with troopers found in violation of the state police’s ban on visible tattoos, according to two sources familiar with the matter.  The administration, citing state police policy, has pushed for the troopers to have any such tattoos removed, a process that may involve costly and lengthy treatments, according to the sources, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.  The union is advocating for a less stringent resolution, although what those options include are unclear.  Asked for comment last week, state police officials would not say what prompted the staff-wide inspection, nor how many troopers were found to have violated the ban.  Union head Joe Kovel also declined to discuss the matter.  From Vermont to Arizona, state police and other agencies have grappled with how much body ink is acceptable, and whether banning it is wise.  “The trend right now very clearly is to relax tattoo regulations,” said Will Aitchison, a Portland, Ore.-based expert on public safety and labor employment law issues.  “There is an obvious reason for it — we can’t recruit enough people to be police in this country.”  Mr. Aitchison, a lawyer who has represented dozens of police and firefighter unions, added: “We are in the middle of a hiring crisis in law enforcement that we haven’t seen in our lifetime.”  Indeed, some departments are toying with relaxing their bans, seen as impediments to recruiting good people.  Others require only that tattoos be covered up, or ban offensive images, words or “excessive” ink.  State police spokesman Ryan Tarkowski said last week that his agency’s policy on personal appearance prohibits tattoos, body art, piercings or any branding visible to the public when troopers are in their summer uniform.  That means markings on the face, neck, hands, forearms and portions of the upper arms.  “The tattoo cannot be visible in the summer uniform shirt, which is a basic, short-sleeved shirt,” Mr. Tarkowski said.  “If a tattoo extends beyond that, a cadet would have to have it removed at their expense.”  The policy also applies to applicants and cadets at the State Police Academy. They get at least three months to have tattoos or piercings removed, and must adhere to the policy as long as they remain troopers.  The state police even have a committee specifically assigned to assess body-art requests from active troopers, who must submit plans for a tattoo’s design, size, color and placement.  But agency officials say the committee doesn’t appear to have been used extensively, if at all.  Mr. Tarkowski could not say what punishment active troopers face if they are caught violating the tattoo ban, or whether Mr. Blocker supports strict enforcement of the policy.  Andrew Matthews, who chairs the National Troopers Coalition, which he said represents 45,000 troopers in 42 states, said there are ways to deal with active troopers who have violated the ban that do not involve forcing them to have their tattoos removed.  Some law enforcement departments, for instance, suspend them and then require them to wear long-sleeved shirts year-round or cover their body ink with makeup or an Ace bandage.  “I think having it removed by laser is a little barbaric,” Mr. Matthews said.  “I’ve seen it with one of my members, and it was a painful process. … There can be a middle ground.”  That’s the issue at the heart of the ongoing talks between Mr. Blocker’s administration and troopers’ association.  Some at the agency cite the policy as a deterrent to potential recruits — including ex-military members — as the state police acknowledges struggles to attract and retain qualified applicants amid a wave of expected retirements in the next few years. 

1/31/17

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