My Turn: Education required for promotions inside WPD - WECT, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

My Turn: Education required for promotions inside WPD

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WPD now requires officers to have at least an Associates degree before being considered for a promotion to sergeant and a Bachelors degree to become a lieutenant. WPD now requires officers to have at least an Associates degree before being considered for a promotion to sergeant and a Bachelors degree to become a lieutenant.

Knowledge is power, and officers with the Wilmington Police Department are learning that first hand.

WPD now requires officers to have at least an Associates degree before being considered for a promotion to sergeant and a Bachelors degree to become a lieutenant.

It's the WPD's way of encouraging officers to seek higher education. In theory, that greater knowledge will help those officers become better leaders.

It's a worthy goal. But I'm not 100% sold on making it an absolute requirement before considering someone for a higher position.

One thing that bothers me is the change in rules for many of the officers already in the system. And another thing is that I know some people, and I'm sure you do too, who don't have a degree, yet they are much smarter than some folks I know with a Ph.D.

I sure hope there is at least some flexibility in all this. I'd hate for a potential great law enforcement leader to be left behind because he or she didn't obtain a "sheepskin."

That's my turn. Now it's your turn. To comment on this segment, or anything else, email me at


Emailed comments from viewers:

I couldn't agree with you more! Police work requires street smarts not book smarts!


I won't leave my name as, quite frankly, it doesn't matter. More to the point my agency has a policy which prohibits me from speaking to you about law enforcement matters without the agencies permission.

Having said that I will say this. I am on the command staff of a large agency in North Carolina. In my eighteen years in law enforcement I have met many officers who have nothing more then a GED hanging on their walls but they are outstanding officers and investigators. I've also found a number of people that have a resume that looks great on paper but who can't open a door without instructions.

Law enforcement is one of the rare fields where the only true teacher is the street. The education of an officer begins in the academy but really takes place in the homes of those involved in domestic disturbances, shootings and in the courtroom. Being a good cop and in turn being a good supervisor at the rank of sergeant and lieutenant is more about understanding people, the ills of society and mid level management. At the higher ranks it becomes much more important to have a working knowledge of grant writing, developing institutional goals and objectives and transforming an say nothing of politics, policy development and fiscal responsibility.

Don't misunderstand me, good officers strive to better themselves and a number will attend and graduate from institutions of higher education but a degree, or lack thereof, shouldn't be the deciding factor as to whether or not to put stripes or bars on someone.

I was fortunate enough to finish my undergraduate degree before I entered law enforcement and I am grateful that I did. With an ever-changing schedule, overtime demands, court, training on days off and of course family responsibilities it is very difficult for the working officers under my command to attend college classes let alone graduate. I felt these same pressures when as a sergeant I spent four years trying to finish a two year MBA program. While it can be done it is, for some, more of a burden than they will want to consider and will undoubtedly result in officers leaving the agency for other departments.

Wilmington may want to look at other agencies that have tried this approach only to have it backfire on them. They can research this very topic through the website operated by the International Chiefs of Police,


I am a daily viewer of your WECT news programs; I watch the morning and nightly programs as well as the mid-day news if I am at home.

I was very impressed with your My Turn comments on the April 29th 6:00 PM news (replayed on today's mid-day news) regarding the educational requirements for WPD police officers and the possible impact those requirements may have on officers "already in the system". I don't know if you are aware, but the Chief of the Wilmington Fire Department has also instituted new promotional requirements for firefighters since he came to the Department in 2008. These changes include not only new educational requirements but other requirements as well. For your information, I have set forth below some of the changes as well as some ramifications of those changes.

By way of background, there are 4 levels of uniformed fire employees: Firefighter, Master Firefighter, Captain and Battalion Chief.

Firefighter is an entry level employee

Master Firefighter – For promotion to this level, the employee must "have a combination of training and experience required to perform the essential functions of the position." He/she must also have a "minimum of 5 years as a current member of WFD." The applicant for promotion must also successfully complete a 3 phase "competitive promotional procedure" which includes a Personal Assessment Report ("PAR"). (The "promotional procedure" is set forth in a 4+ page policy statement and is far too complicated to explain in this limited space.)

Captain – For promotion to this level after July 1, 2009, the applicant "will be required to have an Associate's Degree or completion of 70 hours of coursework towards a Bachelor's Degree by July, 2013."  He/she must have a minimum of 8 years in the WFD, serving 3 of those years as a Master Firefighter. Again, the applicant must successfully complete a 3 phase "competitive promotional procedure", including a "PAR".

Battalion Chief – For promotion to this level after July 1, 2009, the applicant "will be required to meet the requirements for a Bachelor's Degree by July 2015." He/she must have served 3 years as a Fire Captain with the WFD and have completed a 3 part "competitive promotional procedure", including a "PAR".

As you might imagine, the institution of these new requirements and processes has resulted in a number of problems for firefighters. In fact, 2 Master Firefighters who were promoted to Captain, but who were unable to complete the educational requirement by the deadline, were demoted. They both appealed their demotions to the Civil Service Commission and the Commission reinstated them to Captain and gave them additional time to complete their Associate degrees.

Another unfortunate consequence of the new promotional requirements was that rather than being phased in, they were instituted so abruptly that they cut off the career paths of many of the best officers in the Department. Because these officers realized they would not be able to meet the newly established requirements, they abandoned their career aspirations. A number of very experienced, capable senior officers, who would have stayed and served the Department and the citizens of Wilmington, instead decided to retire early. Others who do not have enough time in to retire have either quit, are seeking jobs with other departments, or are continuing in the department but are despondent and discouraged. This is unfortunate not only for the individual firefighters but for the morale of the department as well as for us, the citizens of Wilmington.

Mr. McNair, although I have tried to be brief, I realize this is a long email. However, the changes in the WFD promotional procedures are copious and complex and I have only touched on the main points.  As I said at the outset, I was impressed with your comments regarding the changes in the WPD and wanted to let you know about similar, and perhaps more sweeping changes that have been made in the Wilmington Fire Department.

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