Peace Officer Professional Standards Act Celebrates 20 years

Peace Officer Professional Standards Act Celebrates 20 years

To Kentucky officers certified by the Peace Officer Professional Standards Act (POPS), the 17 pre-employment standards are a bar to meet – and often to exceed. To Kentucky citizens, the standards are an often-unbeknownst assurance of safety and professionalism, regardless of an officer’s uniform color.

In the late-1990s, law enforcement executives and state leaders were concerned about the lack of consistent officer training and standards across the commonwealth. After much planning, research and discussion, the POPS Act legislation was signed April 2, 1998, by then-Governor Paul E. Patton. The act went into effect eight months later on Dec. 1, 1998, after an emergency regulation was filed.  

The act established pre-employment standards, mandatory training for certified law enforcement and dictated new duties for that training’s governing board, the Kentucky Law Enforcement Council (KLEC).

“Before POPS, any sheriff or city police department could put a badge on somebody, strap a gun to their waist, call them a police officer and give them arrest power,” Patton said previously. “That is an awesome power and an awesome responsibility. And it was being distributed in many jurisdictions without any real effective statewide requirements.”

Today’s standards have varied little from what was established 20 years ago. Physical fitness standards initially included a vertical jump requirement, which was removed in 2003. At the POPS Act’s 10th anniversary, the physical fitness standards were reconsidered, and a weighted measurement was put into place.

“Prior to POPS, each law enforcement agency established their own physical fitness, psychological and background standards for determining the suitability of prospective police officer candidates,” Bowling Green Police Chief Doug Hawkins said. “Twenty years ago, POPS created consistent and meaningful standards to measure the suitability of police officer candidates across the commonwealth. History shows POPS has been one of the most impactful measures implemented in Kentucky to enhance the professionalism of law enforcement by requiring every officer candidate in the commonwealth to meet certain critical performance benchmarks to become a peace officer.  

“I believe law enforcement, and the communities we serve, have benefited from improved candidate quality and professionalism as a result of POPS,” Hawkins added.

The consistency of standards is something Kentucky State Police Lt. Col. Chad White said has made a difference on the road. White has served with KSP for 21 years and remembers the safety concerns he felt in his early days before standards were in place. Especially today, White said law enforcement has become more complicated. POPS certification not only professionalized Kentucky’s officers, but also made them safer.

“When the state police show up to critical incidents, there are a lot of different uniforms there,” White said. “When I first started, it was possible somebody might show up on the scene and you didn’t know what kind of training they had – it could be little to none. I’d think, ‘Can I enter this house with this guy and be safe? Can he be on this crime scene and be safe? When he’s talking to a suspect, can I trust that he’s not going to say the wrong things?’

“Now you know that anywhere in the state, when police officers arrive in any uniform, they all have had the proper amount of training, and they are all professional,” White added.

Former KLEC Executive Director Larry Ball, who was part of the team to usher the POPS Act into law, said its success largely stemmed from Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association member support.

“When the sheriffs agreed to support the POPS standards, Gov. Patton agreed to put them into the Kentucky Law Enforcement Foundation Program Fund, which ensured they would be doing the mandatory training,” Ball said. “The sheriffs around Kentucky have benefited from POPS more than anyone.”

Henderson County Sheriff Ed Brady, who proudly holds POPS certificate No. 1, said the POPS Act is the most important legislation in Kentucky law enforcement history.

“The improvement in quality, preparation and resulting standard of service to our citizens cannot be measured,” he said. “It required all agencies statewide to demand only the highest from those who would provide police service to our commonwealth. It took even small agencies and positioned them in the company of the largest and most professional law enforcement in Kentucky.”

While there are many stories to be told of Kentucky’s law enforcement past and present, its POPS’ impact on the future that might be most significant.

Today’s newly-eligible law enforcement basic training academy recruits were infants when the POPS Act passed. Many officers who were grandfathered into certification have since retired from the career field. The lion’s share of today’s ranks are officers who began their careers with the POPS’ foundation in place.

Madison County Sheriff’s Deputy Adam Quiles graduated from the Department of Criminal Justice Training Law Enforcement Basic Training Academy Class No. 496 on Nov. 30, 2018. After completing his 23-week academy, he said he couldn’t imagine entering the field with anything less under his belt.

“We were held to a very high standard (in the academy),” Quiles said. “The instructors made sure everybody was squared away and the job was done correctly. Just for me, I would think I need that training. I wouldn’t want to just go out there and put on a badge and start working the streets.”

From legal training to tactics, Quiles said the training he received helped him have a clear understanding of what to do and not to do, and how to be prepared in a number of situations.

Louisville Metro Police Deputy Chief Michael Sullivan has seen the results of standardized training in his agency as well.

“POPS moved policing into the 21st century,” he said. “The quality and consistency of training and personnel improved – empowering agencies to build a cadre of professional law enforcement agents to better serve the communities of the commonwealth.”

Enacted 20 years ago, the Peace Officer Professional Standards Act created a set of guidelines all law enforcement officers must achieve in an effort to enhance professionalism and standardization among Kentucky’s ranks. Law enforcement officers must:

  • be U.S. citizens

  • be at least 21 years old

  • have obtained a high school diploma or its equivalent

  • possess a valid driver’s license

  • submit fingerprints for a criminal background check

  • not be convicted of a felony offense

  • not be prohibited by federal or state law from possessing a firearm

  • have read the Code of Ethics

  • not have received a dishonorable discharge or general discharge under other than honorable conditions

  • not have had certification as a peace officer permanently revoked in another state

  • have a background investigation

  • have a medical examination

  • be interviewed by their potential employing agency’s executive or designee

  • take a written suitability screener

  • pass a drug-screen test

  • take a polygraph examination.

The entry standards also include five physical fitness measures requiring applicants to:

  • bench press 64 percent of their body weight

  • complete 18 sit-ups within one minute

  • finish a 300-meter run in 65 seconds

  • perform 20 push-ups

  • run 1.5 miles within 17 minutes and 12 seconds

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