Should police officers be required to have a college degree?

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1 Donald Jarvis John Hill CJ July 2012 Should police officers be required to have a college degree? The American Bar Association (ABA) reinforces that idea: "Police need personnel in their ranks who have the characteristics a college education seeks to foster: intellectual curiosity, analytical ability, articulateness, and a capacity to relate the events of the day to the social, political, and historical context in which they occur."(mayo 3) As of May 2004, 22.6% of police officers had college degrees. (Mayo c.1) The statistic also shows that number growing by 2% a year. Doing the simple math, if the statistic holds true and there is still the same average growth today, would put the current rate at around 38.6% of police officers having college degrees. Hopefully that is the case, as higher education is never a bad thing. But the question at hand is whether or not police departments should or should not require that their police officers have to have a degree. My goal is to shed light on a few subtopics of that at the same time. One such question for example is how having a degree, or not having one for that matter, affects the job performance of that police officer. I do however understand that every singular person is different, and as such there will be variations between how each person acts, so most of these questions will be answered based on the average and not on the individual. Let me begin by giving a little bit of my own opinion. I believe that the college degree is somewhat inflated here in recent years. Not saying that it isn t useful, but I feel that quite a few

2 companies use the college degree for a lazy hiring approach. Sure they want smart people. But does a college degree prove that you are smart? I don t think so. What it does show though is that you can learn. This is very important in any technical job, criminal justice field of course not being exempt from that. Learning means that you can adapt on the fly to ever changing conditions. It means that when you are told or shown how to do something you don t have to be told or shown a second or third time. This is what employers are really looking for. The downside to that is I believe quite a few employers use the college degree as an easy way out in the hiring department. For them it may be costly in long run because higher education usually means higher pay than those that don t have higher education. For college graduates it is an expensive price to pay if it is not needed. The average cost of tuition for a four year public college is $21,447, go to a private college and that jumps to an average of $42,224 per academic year. (CollegeData 1) Quite a bit to pay just to find out that you really didn t need a degree. As of recently, I believe the absence of a college-degree requirement in policing means that it is often not seen as a prestigious occupation, like nursing, teaching, or one of the other helping professions that all have different level degree requirements. I do believe that being a police officer or a number of other jobs in the criminal justice field for that matter, are some of those jobs that require a college degree. And fortunately because of it not being seen as a prestigious occupation it is easier to higher people with degrees. The vast majority of the other helping occupations have very strict requirements for degrees. For example a nurse has to have a medical degree, teacher a teaching degree and so on. A police officer could have a bit of a variance in the degree that they could obtain. Speaking of that degree, it should be at a minimum a 2 year degree, most of the time. Definitely a four year degree or better if looking at any kind of leadership position, and a master s to be a police chief. I think the only exception to that rule on

3 the recruiting level would be prior military experience for a new police officer. The reasoning behind this logic is that I believe that there is a certain amount of life experience and maturity that a police officer should have. While you don t necessarily get on-the-job experience dealing with people and things of that nature in school, you will at least learn tools to utilize in those situations. I think it s safe to say that you re most definitely going to get life experience and maturity in the military. One other thing you gain from the military is leadership. Obviously leadership is a big part of being a police officer, whether you are leading other fellow police officers, or taking charge of a situation. The only downside I can think of for possibly brining in someone right out of the military is that they are used to that life style. While that may not be a bad thing as far as getting up in the morning and taking orders well, society as a whole functions much differently than military life. Quite a few situations must be handled delicately, something that it often overlooked in the military. Other than that possibility of slight culture shock, I think hiring from the military would be acceptable. Also, I believe that when you get a degree and become a police officer that your degree major should have to be in either criminal justice or psychology and minor in whatever interests the officer. The reason being is that psychology is all about dealing with people, something police officers do on a daily basis. Criminal justice of course is pertinent. While it s good to get a full range of subjects under your belt, you would also not want to have a degree that would not be pertinent to the job. The only exception to that though is of course if you don t plan to make being a police officer a career. I do strongly feel that it should be mandatory for police officers to learn sign language. I think sign language is important for a police officer due to the fact that they work with people in the community on a daily basis. In bigger cities especially, but anywhere is possible, I think it would be fairly common to come across a deaf citizen and therefore the police officers should be able to

4 communicate with that person without the help of an interpreter because they may not always have an interpreter that the can utilize. If you cannot communicate with the citizens, how can you ever expect to police them? From the research I ve done on this topic I can find very few cons about police officers having a degree. There are very few people that believe that police officers should not have a degree. I attributed that to the fact that most departments today require degrees for advancement. That being said I did find a couple of downsides to police officers having college degrees. The first of which is the fact that it would cost tax payers more money. If you raise the bar and require all of your police officers to have degrees you would have to pay them more. Not saying that police officers do the job for the money, I haven t met one yet that has, but with higher education generally come higher pay, and that is with any job not just the criminal justice professions. Following that potential downside inherently brings along with it another side effect of that. That is recruitment. In certain areas, especially low-income communities, it would be hard to have good recruitment numbers with the college requirement in place. Although, contrary to that some police stations argue that recruitment would not be an issue. Along with recruitment, job satisfaction may be of some concern. While a police officer with a degree is said to have better interpersonal skills and problem solving, it is also said that they may get bored with the job easier. Currently, many police departments are finding that police officers with higher education than their peers are expecting better assignments and faster promotion. While this logic may be true that mentality would have to change if all police officers are required to have a degree. It will then come down to who is the better officer, which I believe is the way it should be anyway. A few opinions I read say that there is less misconduct performed by police officers with degrees than by police officers without degrees. I could not find a study that

5 brought truth to those opinions though. I believe that if an officer wanted to act out of line, he/she would do so whether or not they have a degree. Another argument against police officers having to have a college degree is that police officers must go through police academy. These opinions state that everything the police officer needs to know will be obtained in police academy and through on-the-job training. I don t necessarily believe that to be true. I think that police academy and on-the-job training are more of add-ons that supplement the college degree. I m not advocating in any way that they are not necessary. That is due to the fact that you will not be able to learn everything you need to know in college, nor will you learn all of it from police academy. On-the-job training is a good tool to teach you how things run on the street or in the office, and get you a chance to learn the day-to-day of things within the community. Police academy should be intended to teach police procedures and tactics specific to the department; sort of like a mini-police boot camp. There are numerous reasons why a police officer should have a degree. Professionalism and authority are two big reasons why a degree is important. Earlier I talked about life experience and maturity. These are two contributing factors to professionalism and maturity. Sure, you can have those two qualities without having a college degree, but studies show that people in general have more professionalism and maturity with a degree. Also a degree demands a certain amount of respect. This is especially apparent for higher ranking police officers, when they must communicate with public figures such as the mayor, governor, judge, prosecutors or other public figures of that caliber. It is also apparent when those police officers are in charge of other police officers and it comes time to write evaluations or even police reports during an investigation. No one wants to have a report written on them, or try to read a report that sounds like a 10 year old wrote it. It is frustrating to say the least. A college degree would teach that

6 police officer how to write a great, legible, and easy to comprehend report. Another great thing about having a degree and being in the criminal justice field is promotion possibility. On the topic of that, the same hold true for court appearances. You wouldn t want someone that was uneducated to represent your department. Especially considering the prosecutor, the judge, and the defense attorney have a higher education. As I said before, most departments already require degrees for promotion. Also most federal criminal justice jobs require a minimum of an associate s to even be considered hirable. Those include many jobs for the CIA, FBI, ATF, etc. Of course for many of those agencies, a bachelor s is preferable. Studies show another outstanding plus to having a college degree is that police officers with degrees resort to using force less often. (Burns 1) It is always better to end a situation with words rather than to escalate the situation and have it come to force. The question of whether to use force is always a big topic. It s a split second decision that only the officer has the ability to make. The downside to that is that if it turns out that it was the wrong choice it could mean the officer s career. Yet one more reason that I think a college education would be of great benefit to the officer. They would have great problem solving and quantitative reasoning skills. That still doesn t make that decision an easy one, but it would help think it through a bit more in that split second. In conclusion I would like to say again that I think that police officers should have to have a degree. The next step is of course continuing education while you re serving. The world is ever changing and it only makes sense that you should keep with the times, it could only help. It would be very useful in dealing with the community. While they are getting a degree it would also be a good idea to get a broad subject base. Again this can only help. For example, knowing college level math would make the reconstructing of an accident much easier. Of course business management, human resource classes will all help to make that officer a better manager

7 or leader. So should police officers be required to have college degrees? I think so. I think they will use their training and education more efficiently as well as their logic, judgment, and problem solving ability to better understand situations. They will focus on proactively solving problems, not just fulfilling requirements. In that respect, I think everybody wins. Requiring a degree for police officers is the first step in ensuring that policing is taken seriously as a profession. (Friedmann 10)

8 Works Cited Bostrom, Matthew. The Influence of Higher Education on Police Officer Work Habits. The Police Chief, 10 Oct Web. 30 July 2012 Bowman, Theron. The Chief s Perspective: Demolishing the Recruitment Myth. The Police Chief, 8 Aug Web. 30 July 2012 Bowman, Theron. Educate to Elevate. The Police Chief, Web. 30 July 2012 Burns, Melinda. Cops and College: Do Police Need Book Smarts. Pacific Standard, 2 Sept Web. 30 July 2012 Coons, Jeffrey. Studies, Case Law, Quotes, Standards and Trends in Support of a College Education for Police Officers. Police Association for College Education (PACE), 18 Mar Web. 30 July 2012 Friedmann, Robert. University perspective: The policing profession in The Police Chief, 8 Aug Web. 30 July 2012 Indiviglio, Daniel. The Importance of College: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. The Atlantic, 27 Jun Web. 30 July 2012 Johnson, Kevin. Police Agencies Find it Hard to Require Degrees. USA Today, 18 Sept Web. 30 July 2012 Leonhardt, David. Even for Cashiers, College Pays Off. New York Times, 25 Jun Web. 30 July 2012

9 Mayo, Louis. Support for College Degree Requirements: The Big Picture. The Police Chief, 8 Aug Web. 30 July 2012 Smith, Betsy. The Importance of Continuing Education for Cops. Police Link, Web. 30 July 2012 What s the Price Tag on a College Education. CollegeData.com. 1 st Financial Bank USA, n.d., Web. 30 July 2012

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