Higher Education for Law Enforcement: The Minnesota Model

By Breci, Michael G. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, January 1994 | Go to article overview

Higher Education for Law Enforcement: The Minnesota Model


Breci, Michael G., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


For decades, the call for professionalism in the law enforcement field focused on increasing the educational levels of police officers. The President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice (1967) and the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals (1973) both supported the 4-year degree as a prerequisite for employment in law enforcement. The President's Commission accurately predicted that the complexities of policing would require higher levels of education.

Indeed, since the 1960's, policing has become increasingly complex. For example, many police agencies have implemented community policing, which is based on the premise that police officers can better address crime problems by examining complex social issues and developing solutions that involve the police and the community working together. Effective community policing requires skills officers acquire through higher education-research, critical thinking, problem solving, effective oral and written communication, and an understanding of group and community dynamics.

Recognizing the need for highly educated officers, the Minnesota legislature took the initiative to implement minimum entry-level educational requirements beyond high school. In 1977, it created the Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Board.

The POST Board adopted the position that law enforcement, as a profession, requires a broad-based education. Therefore, it mandated increased levels of education for police officers, while creating standards to ensure the safety of citizens in the State. To accomplish this, the board required that prospective law enforcement officers complete a 2-year degree program in order to be licensed in the State of Minnesota. This article examines Minnesota's policy of licensing law enforcement officers and discusses its implications for the State and law enforcement as a whole.

The Minnesota Model

The State of Minnesota has an unusual application process for law enforcement officers. The POST Board licenses prospective peace officers before they seek employment in police agencies. The licensing process consists of both academic and clinical programs. The academic component, which candidates must complete before pursuing the clinical skills component, requires a 2-year or 4-year degree from a POST-certified college or university. Currently, Minnesota has 20 such institutions.

Minnesota's clinical program is similar to police academies operating in most States--with two significant differences. While police departments usually pay to train new recruits after hiring them, candidates in Minnesota must pay for and complete the program before seeking employment as police officers. The skills component consists of a 9- to 12-week course at one of the three approved centers located in the State. Students may also attend institutions that combine the academic and skills components. Two POST-certified colleges in Minnesota currently offer this option.

After successfully completing the academic and skills components, candidates must pass the Minnesota Peace Officer Licensing Examination. This examination, similar to other occupational licensing tests, assesses students' proficiency in both theory and practice. Those who pass receive a temporary license that allows them to apply for openings in law enforcement agencies in Minnesota. This license remains valid until they find a position with a law enforcement agency. After a law enforcement agency hires an individual, POST issues the officer a 3-year license to "practice" in Minnesota. In order to renew the license, an officer must earn 48 hours of continuing education credit. This education may include college courses and/or agency-sponsored training.

Increased Levels of Education

Educational levels of police officers have increased in Minnesota and nationwide over the past several decades. To illustrate, in 1970, 14. …

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