College Education for Police Officers: Part II

By Molden, Jack | Law & Order, March 1999 | Go to article overview

College Education for Police Officers: Part II


Molden, Jack, Law & Order


In January I reported on recent resolutions by respected national organizations calling for a mandate on entry level law enforcement applicants for a four-year college degree by the year 2003. I received a number of email messages and phone calls in response as apparently this is a "hot button" item - and not everyone agrees.

Several calls were from departments located out of the main stream - away from convenient universities and colleges, that are looking for educational resources for officers wanting to pursue a degree program. Several officers just wanted to talk about education for police officers. There is definitely a strong interest out there and we appreciate the time they took to communicate.

A parole and probation officer with a law degree disagreed with my conclusions, stating, "College should give people a broader view of the world so when they are in a specific field and can learn the ins and outs of their job through training, such as a Police Academy, they can relate that training to a broader end." He said, "I find that police officers with a college background are better able to perform their duties. There is a myth that college graduates may be smart but lack the common sense that non-college graduates have. This purely anti-intellectual attitude is perpetrated by exalting ignorance. While I don't think an Art Major is the perfect way to get into the Criminal Justice system, using this example is just as prejudiced as the anti-intellectual feeling about going to college and is just as wrong."

A Chief from a small police department stated, "Thanks for presenting all sides of the argument. While suggestions for a four-year degree standard have been around for a long while, only within the last five years has there been any real progress, especially for command level positions. Let's hope that this trend continues."

This chief also expressed a frustration of having competent, veteran supervisors who are leaders but lack a formal post-high school education. He feels that in the future he probably will have to give preference to college educated entry-level applicants.

His concern is, what has a 21-yearold applicant been doing since high school? What is his motivation, his ambition and initiative? If he hasn't been in college or in the military, what has he been doing? This is a valid concern.

A veteran Minnesota police supervisor said, "I graduated from a community college [while in-service]. But it took a toll on my family and work life. It's tough trying to help yourself while working rotating shifts and maintain some sort of a home life."

Yes, there is a price. Obtaining a degree in-service is a legitimate, and a favored way by some to become educated, but it is stressful. I vividly remember getting off duty at 7:00am, driving to the University for an 8:00am class, going to sleep in my car while reviewing class notes. Making excuses to my professors because I was called out on overtime. Feeling guilty because I didn't have time to play with my children. Hiding behind a building at 2:00am, reading my sociology textbook with a flashlight.

"Some of the best cops I know do not have four-year degrees. I don't think a degree matters. Being a cop comes from your soul. Some folks can spend a career as a police officer and never become a cop."

He commented, "The reason we will not see a four-year college minimum requirement for entry level officers is financial. City managers and county administrators are not willing to spend hard to find tax dollars to pay for degreed officers. It's simple economics when there's a pool of applicants with no college or a two-year degree who are happy to take less pay. An accommodation between a fouryear degree requirement and a life experience quotient needs to be researched."

A field training officer from Colorado observed, "I agree that education is a good thing and should be attained at some point in an officer's career.

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