Former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey believed police recruits should have at least two years of college under their belts before their boots hit the streets.

"I think we do a disservice to young people by having them go through school thinking that they can get good-paying jobs without at least looking at some level of college work," Ramsey said last year, defending his policy of requiring recruits to have earned 60 college credit hours or served two years in the military.

Asked if the policy contributed to the department's recruiting woes - especially of African Americans - Ramsey replied, "I also think it's an embarrassment to think that you have to lower the standards."

Since January, a new commissioner has been running the Philadelphia Police Department, and when it comes to cops and college, he's about to flip the script.

Commissioner Richard Ross, a Ramsey protégé, has said he also believes college is good for new hires - but not at the expense of the department's manpower requirements. The department's ideal number of sworn officers is 6,525, but the current head count is just over 6,100.

Ross shared those numbers with City Council at an April budget hearing when he revealed he has begun the process to overturn Ramsey's 2012 college mandate. Ross says it may be scaring off potential recruits.

"I can't tell you how many times I got people who stop me and my staff and say, I want to be a police officer [but] I don't have 60 credits," testified Ross, who has a master's degree in criminal justice from St. Joseph's University.

Ross wasn't available to comment, but his office issued the following statement:

"The Police Department is changing the requirements simply because we need more officers. First priority is to get new officers in our ranks to increase the service to the community and to be out there backing up fellow officers."

About 1 percent of the nation's roughly 13,000 local police departments require new officers to have four-year college degrees, while roughly 10 percent require the equivalent of half a degree, or 60 college credit hours, said William Terrill, a criminologist at Arizona State University.

In a 2015 study that analyzed officers from eight departments, he and his coauthor found that college-educated officers are more dissatisfied with their jobs and bosses, but are less likely to be verbally and physically abusive to citizens.

"An officer with a college education has a better grip on having empathy for the people he is serving," Terrill said. "Education really helps with that."

He said that a better-educated officer doesn't "see that person as unworthy. He can understand concentrated poverty at a different level. So, every time a department is talking about repealing an education requirement, I feel that is a step backward," Terrill added.

Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police lodge president John McNesby roundly rejected the notion that dropping the college requirement would result in less-qualified cops.

"There's no college course that teaches you how to use a body camera," said McNesby, who added that the city's police academy, from which he and Ross graduated in 1989, does a good job. "There's no college course that teaches you how to treat people respectfully."

The New Orleans Police Department scrapped its 60-college credit rule in February 2015 after struggling to fill vacancies while turning away more than 1,000 applicants. The move was greeted with skepticism by the department's federally appointed consent decree monitor.

"It is our view . . . that some college course work gives officers, especially new officers, a better perspective in the increasingly complicated world of policing; and that removal of the 60 college credit hours requirement for a police recruit is contrary to current thinking in modern police departments," Jonathan Aronie, the monitor, wrote shortly after the change.

"While removing the college credit requirement may attract more applicants, are they the ones who will be successful officers in NOPD?"

Among the nation's biggest police departments, there is little agreement of the importance of college experience for recruits.

Recruits need college credit or a military record in New York City, Chicago, Houston, Washington, and Dallas. Such experience is not required in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Miami-Dade, and Detroit.

Ross' request to end the college requirement and raise the minimum age for hires from 19 to 22 required approval from the city's Civil Service Commission, which granted it April 20.

Friday, the Administrative Board - composed of Mayor Kenney, Finance Director Rob Dubow, and Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis - are to consider the switch, which if OK'd will go into effect 30 days later if no appeals are filed.

Momentum appears to be on Ross' side.

Kenney and Police Advisory Commission Executive Director Kelvyn Anderson said they are backing Ross.

"Our police officer staffing is the lowest it's been in 22 years, and the commissioner and the mayor agree that changing these requirements could help address that shortage," Kenney said in a statement.

"It's not clear that college credits are an indicator of a candidate's preparedness to serve. At the same time, raising the age to 22 will help to ensure that our officers have had time to sufficiently mature for this very serious responsibility."

Anderson said that while he is aware studies have found that college-educated officers get in trouble less than their peers, dire times call for dire measures.

"As much as I'm reluctant to let go of the [college] requirement, it's pretty clear the commissioner will not be able to fill the available spots without making this change," he said. "We're in a crisis in terms of law-enforcement recruiting."

deanm@phillynews.com

215-854-4172@mensahdean