College Educated Officers: Do They Provide Better Police Service?

By Stevens, Dennis J. | Law & Order, December 1999 | Go to article overview

College Educated Officers: Do They Provide Better Police Service?


Stevens, Dennis J., Law & Order


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.

Degree Programs

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. …

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