Police Education for the 21st Century

Article excerpt

Today, law enforcement agencies face a dilemma. Departments across the nation confront new burdens, such as computer crimes, identity theft, and other domestic problems, unheard of a generation ago, let alone the threat of terrorism and the need for homeland defense. Unfortunately, resources are not growing at the same pace as the demand for police services. Many agencies actually have seen a drop in funding. In such cases, training often represents one of the first budget items cut because many administrators see education as addressing the future and use the analogy "fire prevention is great, but not when the house already is on fire."

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Part of the problem rests with the training itself. While new innovations, such as computer-enhanced teaching tools and software-driven displays, seem cutting edge, police education has not fundamentally changed in generations. Agencies send officers to a central site where instructors work with them. Of course, some subjects, including driving, patrol tactics, firearms, and defense strategies, require such hands-on instruction. However, many departments have recognized a need for overall change. Small agencies cannot afford to have a central training facility, and large departments often do not wish to address specialized needs in-house. So, in many cases, agencies must choose either to send officers to an outside facility and incur the costs and temporary staffing shortages or forego the training.

A lot of departments would like to improve the education of their officers without these difficulties. How can agencies obtain training and maximize resources?

New Partnership

For part of the solution, some agencies have relied on higher education. Certainly, college can help officers meet current and future demands confronting them and their departments. However, standard academic courses are not agency specific, usually require employees to attend on their own time, and, often, are economically or geographically inaccessible to small departments.

Recognizing these shortcomings, several Oregon law enforcement agencies joined in an effort to move police training into the 21st century. While the steps taken reflect the goal of developing specialized education in crime analysis, the lessons learned could apply to a variety of training needs, including basic skill sets.

The participants strived to offer the advantages of higher education and, at the same time, address the need of several departments to receive crime analysis courses while avoiding the high costs, travel, and staffing problems associated with sending employees to outside training sites. In keeping with the best tenets of community policing, the agencies involved sought local partners to help solve the problem.

In September 2003, Clackamas Community College started serving as the community partner. The chair of the criminal justice department met with the agencies and assisted in determining how to provide them with the desired training without having to bring the student to the school and, further, how to ensure that the education meets the needs of the various departments.

As with any true partnership, each participant has offered resources. The agencies supply subject experts who either become adjunct professors (if they meet the advanced degree requirement) or work with current criminal justice instructors to ensure that the material rises to the level of training required by the agencies. Also, the school reviews the curriculum to guarantee its quality and worthiness of college-level credit.

Innovative Program

Although many agencies have partnered with local colleges to bring learning opportunities to personnel, this effort has proven innovative in its medium of instruction, utilizing the Internet for online classes. Instead of physically going to a campus, officers can complete courses at home or at the office--anywhere they can access the Web--at times agreeable with their work and family schedules. …