UPDATED - 8/30 - 12:40 p.m. The complete listing for the secretary job mentioned in this article states that applicants need an Associate’s degree or equivalent. However, applicants without a degree and at least two years of relevant experience may be considered for the position.
Following much debate, members of the Conway Civil Service Commission voted Monday regarding the issue of whether applicants for the Conway Police Department and existing officers needed to have a minimum of 60 college hours to be considered for their positions.
The motion, which was not passed due to a tied vote, has been a topic that Police Chief A.J. Gary has been supporting for some time. He fielded questions from Conway alderwoman Mary Smith, who weighed in on the debate. Smith said she was thought the measure might eliminate some qualified candidates who might not be able to afford college or officers that could transfer from another department.
“I’m afraid that we might miss out on kids that have the heart to do the job but won’t have a chance because they can’t afford college,” she said. “It takes more that 60 college hours to be a good police officer. Also, if officers want to transfer in from other departments that don’t have the same requirements, we might miss out experienced officers because they don’t have the college hours we’re asking for.”
Gary explained his position and stated that he believes the measure would serve as a way to advance the department.
“I have to look at ways to improve the department,” he said. “If we don’t advance as a profession, we become stagnant and I’m not doing my job. Law enforcement is a profession, not just a job. In any profession, you continually raise the standards. “We are not asking that candidates have a bachelor’s degree but I think sixty college hours is a good jump. Most everyone is going to college, we are not going to miss that much.”
Commissioner Bob Bell stated that he could not argue against education and was joined in that position by Commissioner Sandy Brewer.
City Alderman Theo Jones said that he didn’t think the measures were fair because of the pay scale the officers receive.
“Other places don’t pay like Conway,” he said. “We don’t have the money to pay them and you’re going to ask for someone to go to college to take a thirty thousand dollar job? It doesn’t make sense.”
After the failed motion, Gary said that he still believes that continued education makes sense.
“A police officer is required to make a decision in a matter of seconds that take attorneys and judges weeks or months to determine is correct,” he said. “Yet, the minimum requirement in the state of Arkansas is a high school diploma or GED certificate. These standards were set by the Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training in 1975. Even then they emphasized that these were the minimum standards and recommended higher standards, As times change and technology advances, there is a need for continued training and additional education.”
While discussing the subject at Monday’s meeting, Conway Fire Chief Bart Castleberry was asked if he would consider the same standards for firefighters. Castleberry said that while he supported Gary in whatever he thought was best for the police department, he did not believe the same measures would benefit his department.
“I agree that in both jobs, you have to have a heart for the work,” he said. “Once you become a fireman, we train you on what you need to know. Our training officers are exceptional at their job and our people are constantly going to refresher classes to keep the certifications they have. We have quality people and college isn’t for everyone. I think having a good, strong work ethic and loving what you do is important and I’d hate to miss out on any of those people because of a college requirement.”
Commissioner Cornell Maltbia, who voted with commissioner Jack Ballard against the motion, said his vote and that of his counter parts was for the best interest of Conway.
“It is so refreshing to be apart of a community that citizens are so passionate about the betterment of their police department,” he said. “This was not a negative discussion about the issue at hand, but a concerned one about Conway’s best interests. It was an honor to be a part of it.”
While the motion was not passed and police officers will not be required to have further education past their time at the police academy, a current job posting for a secretary at the department lists a minimum requirement of an associate’s degree.
(Candie Beck is a staff writer and can be reached at 505-1238 or at firstname.lastname@example.org)