Do they provide better police service?
A national survey of 2,461 officers from a random sample of 353 municipal and county police departments showed educational attainment and aspiration to be highest among young officers, females, single persons, nonwhites, higher ranking officers, persons undecided about staying in law enforcement, and those receiving incentive pay to attend school.
The first emphasis on professional training and education for officers came in 1916 from August Vollmer, the father of modern policing, who insisted police officers should have college degrees. Not much was accomplished until 1967, when the President's Commission on Law Enforcement advocated that police personnel with general enforcement powers should have a baccalaureate degree. This idea was offered as "an ultimate" rather than an immediate goal.
Today, some people argue that higher education for police officers should be viewed as an occupational necessity. Yet, in what way does a baccalaureate degree bring a law enforcement agency closer to its mission? The debate about police training and police education goes on, however, some writers distinguish between the two by defining training as the practical and applied side of education.
Currently, the American Police Association (APA) lists over 45 law enforcement agencies that require a college degree at entry-level positions. Government statistics reveal that 10% of all police agencies mandate college degreed candidates, 7% mandate community college degrees, and 86% mandate a high school diploma for an entry level position (at a average national starting wage of $28,238 with a low of $18,000). Also, 640 training hours is the average training hours required of candidates for police entry positions.
The mission of the APA is largely to facilitate the professionalization of law enforcement and to exert a strong influence on the ethics of every agency and practitioner. Also, the APA wants to upgrade the vocation of police officer to achieve the recognition required to attract highly qualified candidates. They advocate a baccalaureate qualification for all officers.
Higher education produces a number of benefits for officers. For example,
* It develops a broader base of information for decision-making.
* It provides additional years and experiences for increasing maturity.
* It inculcates responsibility in the individual through course requirements and achievements.
* It permits an individual to learn more about the history of the country and the democratic process.
Pressure? You bet! Advocates of higher education seem to imply that an officer without a degree is somehow inadequate in providing quality law enforcement.
What is the mission of a degree program? Dean Daniel Maier-Katkin of Florida State University suggests the aim of its school of criminology and criminal justice is a scholarly inquiry in criminology and criminal justice to further understanding of the root causes of criminality, to influence public policy through the development of strategies for crime control, and to promote justice in the enforcement and administration of law.
California State University at Los Angeles' criminal justice program suggests its aim is to prepare students for successful positions in law enforcement through their curriculum which provides intensive study in the areas of criminal justice theory, research methodology and data analysis, criminal law, organizational functioning, program planning and criminalistics.
These are courageous goals and they may represent, in whole or in part, the goals of many criminal justice programs. A primary goal of many baccalaureate programs relates to critical thinking skills, such as being able to see things from more than one perspective and providing valid evidence to support those perspectives through reliable examinations. Self-knowledge, critical thinking, and the ability to live productively in a community are all vital to our lives as individuals, workers and citizens.
There are approximately 750,000 sworn officers in the United States employed by approximately 18,800 agencies. Typically, there are approximately 21 officers for each 10,000 residents. Most state and local sworn personnel are uniformed officers whose regularly assigned duties include responding to calls for service.
Despite the fact that most department mission statements are different, the job of policing seems similar. For instance, one mission statement reads: The Chicago Police Department, as part of, and empowered by the community, is committed to protect the lives, property and rights of all people, to maintain order, and to enforce the law impartially. We will provide quality police services in partnership with other members of the community. To fulfill our mission, we will strive to attain the highest degree of ethical behavior and professional conduct at all times.
Austin, Texas' mission statement reads: To protect and serve through community partnerships. (Our values are) to treat all persons with fairness, respect and dignity through professionalism, open honest communications, loyalty, integrity, courage and ethical behavior.
A priority goal of law enforcement is to enforce specific laws in a specific jurisdiction. Since higher education's priority is centered somewhere in selfknowledge, critical thinking and productivity and law enforcement's priority is enforcement and prevention, then what role does advanced education play especially among new police recruits? Is it appropriate for new officers to debate the orders of their superiors or collect empirical evidence that might demonstrate that a specific law is unlawful?
One answer is that training and education are needed for both the general good of teaching, new skills and to protect municipalities and government agencies from liability suits, argues O'Neil. But what variables might promote quality law enforcement service?
One of my own studies shows that high levels of job satisfaction among police officers are linked more often to quality service than other variables. Officers who scored low on job satisfaction scales also report that they thought they had provided poor police service. The source of their dissatisfaction was seen as a distrust of management, discretionary powers dwarfed by mountains of redundant reform, and training programs incompatible with realities of the 21 st century.
Police have long been the first line of defense for society and while violent crime is being reported on the decline, the number of barricaded and heavily armed subjects has been fairly consistent, and by some accounts, growing. Many first time offenders feel that the use of deadly force is an appropriate response due in part to a lack of law enforcement service while other offenders, especially career criminals are rarely deterred by the threat of apprehension or capital punishment.
Thirty percent of the public polled for the US Department of Justice reported that the police cannot protect them from crime, solve crime or prevent crime. Another study revealed that idealistic educated officers (women were better candidates than men) were more likely to become involved in corruption due to their lack of experience and military training and their strong belief in law and order.
Corrupt officers tend to accept the idea that law and order must prevail and that it is their duty to further the American ideals whenever and however possible which includes a violation of the force, contraband and due process rights, the data seemed to say. That is, the more education a police officer has (especially an undercover officer and/or without the experience and/or without a military background) the more vulnerable an individual is to the manipulators of corruption. Could that be part of the critical thinking process?
Police officers are street-level bureaucrats. They have face-to-face encounters with violators and represent government to the people. But, their authority is regularly challenged and their expectations about how they should be doing their job are contradictory and often ambiguous. Officers understand that they are in a losing battle with offenders but continue to do their jobs as it relates to governmental bureaucracy. For instance, federal authorities seized about 120 metric tons of cocaine shipped to the US in 1994 leaving approximately 258 to 345 metric tons of pure cocaine for domestic consumption.
The fact is the criminal element in the United States has become much more sophisticated. As the turn of the century approaches, American law enforcement faces a criminal underground like no other in history. Despite declining crime reports, most citizens think there is more crime in the US than three years ago, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Officers have experienced an increase in gang, juvenile and illicit drug activity resulting in more arrests, convictions and custody supervision.
One fundamental principle of western law, on which America's criminal justice system is based, is a crime is an offense primarily against the government - not against real people and the communities they live in. As a result, America has a system focused on enforcement and punishment. But enforcement and punishment have come under the liability hammer turning justice into another word for compromise especially among offenders.
For example, the Los Angeles Police Department reported that litigation against police officers cost the city more than $322 million dollars between 1992 to 1998. It is expected that LA will have paid out $42 million in 1999 alone. The suits include police shootings to civil rights violations. Liability practices impact arrest rates. Is justice served? True justice repairs the harm done by crime, holds offenders accountable for their actions and protects society.
Rachel Lauer argues, developing skills in self-knowledge, critical thinking and the ability to live productively in a community "requires effective interaction and thoughtful reflection upon the consequences of our interactions. To the extent that college life requires students to be passive receivers in the classroom and focuses on the past, showing no respect for the knowledge relevant to their personal concerns, higher education will not serve society as well as it should."
Then, too, at institutions where a tenured facility is the rule, Robert Worth suggests that there is a tendency that tenure doesn't promote good teaching and scholarship, but hinders it. Junior faculty members seeking tenure are forced "to give their teaching short shift," as they struggle to prove the value of their scholarship, he wrote. Meanwhile, faculty members who win tenure are "rewarded with less teaching" and no longer need to prove their scholarship, he wrote, so they have no incentives to teach and "may also lose touch" with new developments in their fields.
How efficient are lectures, the preferred method of many instructors? Recall "A Private Universe" an award-winning video program about education. As the tape begins, the bell is tolling in Harvard Yard for the Class of 1987. Twenty-three randomly selected seniors, faculty and alumni were asked one of two questions, "Why is it warmer in summer than in winter?" or "Why does the moon seem to have a different shape each night?" Only two answered their question correctly.
Why? One answer might suggest that some educators are pleased when lecturing as they witness their students' eyes light up and they may even respond as though they understand the material. An assumption made by some professors is that once a student hears the truth, prior beliefs will be irrelevant. Has prior belief been replaced with truth?
In some cases students have been further confused by lectures because they used their hidden preconceptions to interpret what the teacher was saying. The students were never forced to become conscious of their prior beliefs, let alone to test them against new ideas.
The result is what an artist might call "pentimento," a layer of "learning" is painted over a pre-existing belief, but, after a time, the original belief about the content reemerges, mostly untouched. It's a style of teaching by broadcast, even though students are in the same classroom or watching telecommunication monitors. The information flow is almost entirely from the facility member outward to the students. Little fresh information flows from the students to the faculty member (or to each other).
A high percentage of police officers are adult students who have their own experiences and understanding of the social world, and their point of view may be right. Therefore, adult learners require help in understanding their own realities and theories about those realities. Germane to this process, is critical reflection and testing new meanings through deliberate reflection of the evidence, on arguments based upon alternative points of view, and on critically examining assumptions.
Faculty members should ask probing questions in class (whether the students are in the same room or a hundred miles away), and devise assignments that help students confront their beliefs and test their skills. Overall, endeavors should become student-centered starting with the knowledge of the student in order to advance the adult learner. It's a method of education that I call collaborative learning.
Educators and business leaders should stop measuring student progress with ambiguous indicators of performance such as grades and focus on learning outcome approaches. For instance, students move into the next course by accomplishing the objectives of the last course. Most of those objectives have to do with application in real life situations. Thus, gaining a competency in a certain course of study means that the student has met the objectives of the course.
Some people agree with this perspective and offer a modern definition for "competency" while providing a model for developing competency standards in educational institutions and businesses. Such standards teach students job skills, how to apply them, and how to adjust those skills in specific environments.
Lastly, officers should examine some of the new college programs offering criminal justice programs at strip mall locations or on television, in record time tables, with adjunct (part time) instructors (or student aids).
Does every college program prepare an individual for a job as a cop? Jeremy Travis, Director of the National Institute of Justice said officers need to look at education not as a goal, but the means toward a goal, that goal being better policing. When viewed this way, education has to be ongoing, and better policing has to be a constant pursuit. Reaching the goal will span the entire career of the individual officer.
Part of the reason is that the dimensions of the crime problem have changed and will change again, Travis said. Departments adopting or considering adopting community policing may feel a college-educated officer is the preferred candidate. But they may also want to explore options that shape the experiences of recruits.
My advice to students is; "Get that piece of paper that says `you've arrived.' Along with it, get the knowledge, the skills and the networks to be able to make the decisions expected of you by your children, friends and employer. My advise to educators is; leave job skills to the experts at the police academies. I don't teach `stop and search' and my colleagues at the academics don't teach Marx's theory of class exploitation.
My most successful students wanted a degree for themselves. A degree doesn't make a poorly skilled cop a better cop. Better quality police service requires better trained (preferably with military experience) officers who during the course of their career might, with the help of their departments, educate themselves further to enhance themselves, their families and their communities.
Dennis J. Stevens is an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He can be reached at email@example.com.…