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Tyre Nichols death reveals Memphis Police hiring struggles

Feb 07, 2023


According to former Memphis Police recruiters who spoke with The Associated Press, the department has experienced significant hiring struggles in recent years. The struggles may have played a role in the death of Tyre Nichols last month. Nichols was beaten, kicked, pepper sprayed and tased while in police custody before dying in the hospital a few days later.

“They would allow just pretty much anybody to be a police officer because they just want these numbers,” said Alvin Davis, a former lieutenant in charge of recruiting before he retired last year out of frustration. “They’re not ready for it.”

According to the former recruiters, the Memphis Police hiring struggles forced the department to increase incentives and lower its standards. This includes:

  • Offering new recruits $15,000 signing bonuses and $10,000 relocation allowances
  • Phasing out requirements to have either college credits, military service or previous police work
  • Seeking state waivers to hire applicants with criminal records
  • Dropping timing requirements on physical fitness drills (including running entirely) because too many people were failing

“If you lower standards, you can predict that you’re going to have problems because we’re recruiting from the human race,” Ronal Serpas, the former head of the police in Nashville and New Orleans and the Washington State Patrol, told The AP. “There’s such a small number of people who want to do this and an infinitesimally smaller number of people we actually want doing this.”

Out of the five officers who have been charged with murder in Nichols’ death, two had a couple years of experience. None had more than six. Memphis police did not respond to requests for comment from the AP about their hiring standards.

“There were red flags,” another former recruiter who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel and hiring said. “But we’re so far down the pyramid nobody really hears the little person.”
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