The Minnesota Police Education Requirement: A Recent Analysis

Article excerpt

Several decades of research concerning the relationship between higher education and policing has led to little agreement concerning the appropriate extent of education for entry-level law enforcement officers. Clearly, officers with little formal education have effectively protected and served citizens throughout the history of policing in the United States. Despite this, however, academics and practitioners, as well as organizations and national commissions, have repeatedly argued for more formal education requirements for the police. They often posit that the movement from traditional policing to community-oriented problem solving requires skill sets, such as critical and analytical reasoning, enhanced understanding of socioeconomic causes of crime, and advanced interpersonal and intercultural communication, that are best developed in higher education programs. These arguments have not translated into action, and few law enforcement agencies mandate anything beyond a high school diploma for entry-level officers. As recently as 2003, only 9 percent of police departments nationally required a 2-year college degree and 1 percent a 4-year degree. (1)

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Despite the apparent lack of a national movement toward higher education in policing, the state of Minnesota has had a 2-year degree requirement for entry-level police officers for more than 30 years. In addition, Minnesota has conducted two statewide studies of the education levels of its police officers, the most recent in 2008. The authors present a discussion that reviews the key findings of this latest police education study.

HISTORICAL OVERVIEW

In 1977, Minnesota policy makers passed legislation that created the first licensing system for police officers in the United States and established the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (Minnesota POST), which has the authority to both license and determine minimum education requirements for all new police officers in the state. In 1978, Minnesota POST identified a 2-year college degree as the minimum education requirement for all new entry-level officers. In 1990, the first state-wide study of the Minnesota model took place in response to the introduction of initial legislation that would have raised the entry-level requirement for police officers in Minnesota to a 4-year degree after January 4, 1994. (2) The study, conducted in two parts, collected data that provided an overview of education levels and related characteristics of police officers, perceptions of degree requirements, and demographic data. One key recommendation of this first study--to not raise the entry-level requirement to a 4-year degree--was accepted, and the 2-year degree continues as the minimum requirement in Minnesota. (3)

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CURRENT STUDY

The authors conducted the 2008 study to assess the effect of the 2-year degree requirement on overall education levels of current officers over the nearly 20 years that have elapsed since the first study. In addition, they examined officer perceptions of the issues related to and associated with the formal education requirements. Because the research instrument used in the current study essentially replicated the 1990 one (with several new items added), it enabled the analysis and comparison of the relationships between the key variables of both studies.

Participants

The authors obtained a list of all of the 9,386 licensed, full-time officers working in city or county law enforcement agencies in May 2008 from Minnesota POST. They sent a self-administered survey to a random sample of the officers, using a random number generator. From the final sample size of 1,099 officers, 627 of them returned the survey, representing a 57 percent response rate. The survey consisted of 30 questions or items, 29 closed-ended and 1 open-ended.

Results of the analysis indicated that approximately 86 percent of the respondents were male, 56 percent were under the age of 39, 93 percent identified themselves as white, 69 percent held the position of patrol officer, and 52 percent reported having 12 or more years of experience in policing. …