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Back to Archives | Back to November 2007 Contents 

Partnering with a Purpose

By Keith Clement, Assistant Professor, Department of Criminology, California State University–Fresno; Richard M. Hough, Criminal Justice Program Coordinator, University of West Florida, Pensacola, Florida; and Detective Brian Jones, Chief John Mathis, and Assistant Chief Chip Simmons, Pensacola, Florida, Police Department

itizens of the United States expect a lot from their police and law enforcement agencies. Officers are routinely placed in dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations and forced to make critical decisions at serious risk of life and limb. Sometimes these decisions are made in a split second, under hostile fire, or under other less-than-optimal conditions. At other times, a call may require delicate negotiating between unhappy neighbors or perhaps consoling victims after a domestic disturbance. In other words, officers are expected to be Dirty Harry one moment and Dr. Phil the next. Training and experience may build an officer’s effectiveness, but are other resources available? What can law enforcement executives do to assist their officers in making quick, sound decisions in the field? Can other stakeholders in the local community contribute to the law enforcement mission and the betterment of officer training, recruitment, and retention?

It is an ongoing priority to equip officers with skills for effective policing. This imperative includes the more conceptual methods required of today’s U.S. police officer. The need for increasingly sophisticated techniques and tools extends to the managers and administrators of an agency as a whole. Institutions of higher education such as community colleges, four-year colleges, universities, and so forth can often provide instruction on such techniques and tools. The primary purpose of this article is to identify and describe the advantages of cooperation between institutions of higher education and law enforcement agencies, which can pool their resources to achieve common goals and objectives. An example of this relationship is the recent partnership between the Pensacola, Florida, Police Department and the Department of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies at the University of West Florida (UWF). These two organizations have more in common (and more to offer each other) than is apparent at first glance.

Although the possibilities for mutual benefit are many, this article explores only three potential areas: training, education, and technical assistance. In addition to discussing the benefits of this relationship, this article examines best practices to initiate, maintain, and strengthen partnerships between higher education and law enforcement. Several useful strategies to develop and strengthen these bonds are included. The bottom line is that agencies should consider fostering strong ties with local universities and community colleges with available subject matter experts in the faculty. To maintain the high public image of law enforcement, the hiring, training, and retention of quality officers must be an area of critical focus.


Police agencies look internally to train their own in the methods and traditions of the law enforcement profession in the academy, field training officer (FTO) programs, and in-service training. Historically, police agencies have been cloaked in a certain degree of secrecy, wary of external scrutiny and reliant on internal forms of regulation and control. Police training exhibits this dominant mindset. To obtain optimal performance from line officers, they must be recruited, trained, and ultimately indoctrinated into the culture, norms, and values of policing. A valuable aspect of this culture can be a reliance on or an embracing of external assistance and partnership with organizations dedicated not purely to law enforcement.

The vital experience and knowledge imparted in training academies can be supplemented through college courses in a variety of academic disciplines. Training is one area in which police academies and local colleges and universities can work together t o better prepare officers for the wide scope of their responsibilities and duties in the field. Higher education offers many courses that build on the foundations and skills taught in basic training. Better training improves officer safety, performance, and decision making consistent with department policy and standard operating procedures. Formal education can be one of the important pillars of sound discretion in decision making, which is the quintessential characteristic of modern U.S. police.

In the academy, hours are spent developing such skills as defensive tactics, patrol vehicle operations, handling of arrestees, first aid, use of firearms, witness interviews, leadership, and so on. In the police instructional setting, an impact weapon may be displayed and its use explored, and recruits would receive hands-on training. Police training offers a practical application of job-essential tasks and duties. Certified practitioners teach basic training courses for use in real-life situations. Training is restricted largely to the street knowledge officers require to get the job done in the safest, most efficient manner. Law enforcement training is sanctioned by state bodies, regulated by training commissions, and disseminated only by qualified law enforcement training officers.

Police training offers expertise from individuals who have specific knowledge about the best ways to respond to various potentially dangerous situations. Training received at the academy is also critical for the development of a policing culture, including the requisite leadership skills, core values, ethics, and norms of professionalism. Because of its role in passing along law enforcement culture and expectations from generation to generation, along with the specialized skills taught there, the academy will not be replaced by the university as the primary training location for law enforcement officers. However, there are other types and sources of valuable knowledge and useful skills.

More general types of training can be augmented by varied coursework from many different academic disciplines. Programs and courses are available to help reinforce basic skills necessary for success on the streets. For example, officers that live in areas where many different languages are used might find communicating easier if they were to take some basic language courses. Officers that struggle with reports might find they develop additional writing prowess with an English course. Criminal law and evidence courses provide much more detail than the barebones versions of these subjects as taught at the academy. Generally speaking, there are a variety of college courses that could enhance the training experience.

College Courses to Enhance the Training Experience

Universities can be useful in supplementing academy training. Research reveals that 90 percent of law enforcement chief executives desire specific training for police leaders, although 19 percent of agencies do not offer this training.1 Universities can teach management and leadership classes. Departments with more general degree programs such as public or business administration are very useful to further the skills and careers of both officers and administrators alike. There are several specific academic programs whose mission most closely meets law enforcement training needs.

Departments of criminal justice or criminology are designed to meet the needs of today’s law enforcement professionals. Particularly useful courses include an introduction to policing (covering the history of policing, a broad overview of the function of the law enforcement system, and current critical issues in policing); criminal investigation; criminal law; criminal evidence; criminal justice agency management; ethics in criminal justice; substance abuse; and juvenile delinquency. Some colleges also have advanced law enforcement degree programs or courses such as police administration and operations, forensics, criminal behavior or psychology, sex offender or homicide classes, white-collar crime, and other topical classes of specific policing interest.

Whereas the academy teaches many important tools of policing, a variety of useful conceptual skills and advanced training methods of investigation are available from local universities and colleges. For example, academy recruits are taught how to conduct narcotics investigations: searching and arresting suspects, collecting evidence, and preparing reports. Then cadets can turn to a local college to take a course on drugs and substance abuse and learn the pharmacological details of controlled substances and how various addictions are treated. It is this combination of street skills and education that yields better decisions and actions. Arguably, such a combination is desirable for officers in an age of community- and problem-oriented policing.

Courses in other disciplines might be of benefit as well. Departments of social work can reinforce training hours in several important skills. These courses include crisis management, dealing with juveniles or families in crisis, emotional readiness, stress management, diversity issues, and other related topics. Even general business courses can help round out officer training. Business courses include management, leadership training, budgeting, accounting, and finance. Other potentially beneficial classes include instruction in health, nutrition, and exercise.

In some respects, the difference between training and education is hardly noticeable. The line between the two is blurred substantially when universities and law enforcement collaborate in education.

Collaboration in Education

Many goals and values are reflected in the abstract concept of “education” in college mission statements. One fundamental purpose of education is to teach people how to be responsible, productive, and contributing members of society. This perspective is a very general one, but upon further reflection, it could also include preparing individuals for a career or placing them in a position to continue their professional training, whether in graduate school, law school, the academy, or another institution. The education function fulfills various needs and provides significant advantages.

Specifically, education can be viewed as a tool for recruitment, training, advancement, and retention of officers. Law enforcement agencies are looking for qualified and competent personnel to fill a slew of open vacancies. Whether an agency needs interns to help with filing or recent graduates to replenish the ranks, it has wide and varied personnel needs. If a college or university has an advisory board, it is important to include the insight of local law enforcement agencies in the membership.

Universities are a useful source of competent students looking for internships, volunteer or public service, summer or part-time employment, or even affiliation with a criminal justice student association to provide speakers or tours of the campus police station. College campuses are interested in educating students and then sending them out into the work world. And as law enforcement agencies both large and small struggle to meet recruiting numbers, the pool of high-quality applicants streaming out of criminal justice and criminology programs three times a year (following spring, summer, and fall graduations) could help meet recruiting numbers.

The benefits of higher education may stand to benefit not only line officers; advantages to police supervisors may be realized as well. Officers and administrators could return to college for advanced degrees beyond the bachelor’s degree. There is a host of administrative, management, and other specialized courses in advertising, public relations, human relations, accounting, and so on. Many academic programs with more specialization tend toward advanced degree programs, such as the ever-useful MPA (master of public administration degree), MSA (master of science in administration), and police science programs, as well as law degrees. The primary benefits of advanced degrees (including law degrees) are the additional promotional opportunities for officers already employed at various levels and divisions of a law enforcement agency. The concepts and practices learned in advanced degree programs round out the skill set of experienced police managers.

The second advantage of “education” in this context is the increase in character and intellectual development students undergo in the higher education system; a symbiotic relationship between educational institutions and law enforcement agencies can evolve through placing qualified students with paying employer agencies. As previously mentioned, college courses help support and reinforce the crucial skills and knowledge imparted at the academy—but an education is worth more than the sum of its parts in terms of classes. Education serves to stimulate the mind, foster intellectual development, sharpen critical analysis skills, promote civil discussion with people of differing views, and allow for future personal and career development. Higher education’s increased emphasis on critical thinking and decision-making skills fit hand in glove with the paradigm of problem-oriented policing. Education makes for “well-rounded” individuals, often translating into better performance in select aspects of the job. As a simple example, after students write enough papers, they may start to write more precise reports, and the increased word processor experience cuts down on writing time. In this way the additional skills benefit not only the student but also the employing agency.

Better performance in select aspects of a police officer’s job is entirely likely given the college experience. The practice in public speaking that comes with classroom presentations is tremendously beneficial to the community policing officer who must make effective presentations or for the manager or administrator who must argue persuasively before superiors for program support or in front of the city council during budget workshops.


While attempts have been made to sway police training from strictly practical applications toward more pertinent approaches, such as conflict resolution,2 many agency leaders remain unconvinced. The new missions in law enforcement that stress community involvement and problem solving require a more in-depth or comprehensive approach to training and education. The now well-established drive toward problem-oriented policing speaks volumes to the need for a type of education that may differ from the skills taught at most academies. Conventional wisdom about police training may be long overdue for an extensive analysis and subsequent change of direction. If the gap between the potential career benefits of higher education and police perception of the relevance of such a resource could be narrowed, officers might view higher education as more accessible and desirable. One of this article’s authors (R.M.H.) presented a workshop more than 10 years ago at the annual IACP conference in conjunction with former Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) director and innovative chief Daryl Stephens, in which he argued in favor of moving past the discussion about whether college education was beneficial to officers to a more important conversation about how best to utilize officers with such an education.

It should be the admittedly lofty goal of law enforcement practitioners everywhere to close the gap between law enforcement training and college education. Ever-increasing complexities in the responsibilities and nature of contemporary policing demonstrate the need for a marriage between the practical desires of law enforcement and the critical skills offered by educational institutions. Law enforcement agencies can further education and the development of policing skills by extending police academy training to recruits that have finished their bachelor’s degree in criminal justice (or other relevant degree programs). This is one important way to mold “complete” officers, those educated and trained in best policing practices in part through the breadth of knowledge found within their college coursework.

Universities are interested in collecting and disseminating many different kinds of knowledge. Some consider the content of that knowledge to be more abstract, conceptual, or theoretical, “book learning” rather than the more widely appreciated “street smarts” useful in the field. Law enforcement agencies are forced to deal with the reality on the streets when dealing with social problems and do not have the luxury of the theoretical world of the academic “ivory tower.” For such reasons, it is understandable that police agencies have not traditionally placed a great deal of value on attaining a college degree, as it was not viewed as necessarily relevant. Likewise, many colleges and universities still fail to appreciate the need for immediately usable strategies and techniques when offering an “academic” product to officers and agencies. But these views are changing.

Historically, police agencies have not placed a great deal of value on higher education. As of 2003, only 18 percent of local police departments serving a population of one million or more required some college credit as an entry requirement for officers, and 9 percent of all local police departments required a two-year degree.3 Although these figures leave substantial room for improvement, advancements have been made since 2003—indicating that police organizations have begun to acknowledge the worth of a college education.4 The minimum requirement for some college work among officers has increased 3 percent since 2000. Studies have revealed that the attainment of a college degree may lead to greater professional development.5

Some jurisdictions have welcomed the introduction of higher education as an additional resource for the development of their officers. A joint effort between Salt Lake Community College and several Utah law enforcement agencies facilitated degree attainment. College classes were held at police departments, increasing the availability of access to officers.6 Agencies have encouraged officers to attend college by offering tuition assistance or stipends to base salaries. Furthermore, in a study of disciplinary actions taken against Florida officers in the period 1997–2002, the IACP Police Administration Committee found that officers with only a high school education accounted for 75 percent of disciplinary actions, whereas those with a bachelor’s degree accounted for only 11 percent.7

Technical Assistance: A Case Study of Police Beat Reorganization

Agencies continually face questions of how best to organize and allocate their labor. Should a department move to 12-hour shifts? Or is a schedule containing four 10-hour shifts the preferred model? Should shifts rotate every six months? Or should seniority govern the choices of shifts available? Should shifts be staggered according to the number of calls for service, or should a department maintain its original style of doing things? The research that interests agencies is often practical, because a primary concern for most, if not all, agencies is learning the best way of doing things: for example, developing better strategies and standard operating procedures as well as field-testing weapons, body armor, and other technology intended to make the lives and jobs of cops easier and safer.

With so many expectations of patrol officers and police administrators, where can they go to get answers for these questions when they need an expert and do not have one already in house? Where can agencies find technical assistance on core objectives such as personnel management or resource allocation without breaking the bank or bringing in consultants to prepare expensive reports on the obvious? If an agency does not have a huge crime analysis division with a substantial amount of available time, where is the logical place to go for additional help in such technical matters without having to spend a great deal of money on cadres of high-paid consultants?

College or university faculty can often provide the low-cost technical expertise agencies need. One potential contribution of college or university faculty members to law enforcement agencies is in the form of technical assistance, relying on the individual research strengths of the researcher or criminal justice department of the college or university. Additional research and analytical skills dedicated to the mission and operation of police departments may be as close as the telephone. One area of specific research or teaching interest of a particular faculty member may be related to the policy evaluation, needs assessment, and/or technical assistance requirements of the department. Technical needs can be matched with the interests of faculty members who research issues very close to the department needs. Organizations such as the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS), PERF, and the IACP have a great deal of information to offer, but a local college or university can assist an agency in researching and applying information and resources specifically to that agency.

In addition to saving money, agencies can also benefit from the increased efficiency of human resource allocation. Patrol beat reallocation can result from changing policing management philosophies, when an agency undergoes structural and organizational change and moves between traditional and community-based policing models. New patrol beat structures can reflect different policing management styles or encourage positive behaviors from and roles for individual officers. New divisions may reflect the establishment of a community policing zone around a downtown area, which might utilize newly implemented or increased foot, horse, or bike patrols.

Following this example of patrol beat structures, a police detective designed a research project with two UWF professors that had the potential for yielding practical, applicable results for his agency, the Pensacola, Florida, Police Department. The chief and assistant chief of police were both amenable to furthering the professional development of their officer and also saw the possibility of obtaining research assistance in an area of interest to the agency. What started out as an ambitious young detective’s special-topic course for academic credit quickly became another opportunity for academics to put their research skill and expertise to use in such tasks as analyzing crime trends and call-for-service data when evaluating patrol beat allocations to determine actual need. The parties met to discuss the needs of each participant and quickly agreed that they could help each other. The faculty members would provide the officer with the topic for his coursework, and the department would receive the benefit of a more thorough examination of the community it serves.

The Pensacola Police Department, like other law enforcement agencies, has struggled with the proper and most effective placement of personnel within its jurisdiction. It is imperative that police departments have the tools to evaluate their patrol beat structure to reflect shifting populations, crime rates, city environmental design, traffic flow patterns, and so on. Oftentimes, agencies assign personnel based solely on numerical data gathered within a specific timeframe. Although this is somewhat effective, the evolution of a community’s population, combined with other socioeconomic changes, can create an ambiguous picture of the true need for law enforcement services in a given area.

Recently, the agency set out to explore the need to reevaluate resource distribution based on changes in the community. There had long been a need to reevaluate the beat/zone structure to reflect the changes in crime trends, population shifts, and philosophies since the previous evaluation, which had taken place over 15 years earlier. Several factors needed to be examined: the demographics of each neighborhood, the daytime population versus residential population, and any discernible patterns of crime. These data, coupled with the evolution of best police practices and a change in public expectations of police service, set the stage for a beneficial partnership.

When the police department set out to evaluate and update its beat structure and resources, it looked for ways to measure more than just empirical crime statistics. The department wanted a true picture of the area, one that would reveal not only the need for enforcement but also community policing opportunities and even future trends. Like all other agencies, the Pensacola Police Department continuously monitors crime statistics, looking for trends and using this information on a daily basis. Although this has proved to be operationally successful in the past, this time the agency sought a more in-depth analysis, one based not solely on current crime statistics. Police managers should keep abreast of where crimes (or calls for service) are occurring and allocate adequate patrol response accordingly, mixing traditional and community-based policing patrols as appropriate in various neighborhoods.

Based on the initial meeting, the UWF contingent then completed the framework for initiating a comprehensive beat structure analysis. The information provided a detailed look at factors affecting crime and resources rather than simple crime statistics. During follow-up meetings, the group shared ideas, desires, and concerns, feedback that was readily incorporated into the overall model. It is highly unlikely that by itself, the agency would have taken into account such factors as level of education, employment status, housing, poverty, or race had the UWF faculty not added its perspective to the structure analysis. The analysis even combined the criteria mentioned with the department’s pure statistics and other data deemed pertinent to beat structures and the allocation of labor. Variables used in the analysis included the number of establishments allowing alcoholic beverages to be consumed on the premises, daytime verses nighttime populations, nature and duration of calls, imminent changes to specific locations, and current beat officers’ perspectives.

The report has provided the agency with a good start on reorganizing its beat structure. The police department learned that some changes are needed to the organizational structure as well as to the philosophy behind problem-solving efforts in certain areas of the city of Pensacola. The results generated in the report are enabling the agency to move to the next step in efficient service delivery. The outcomes provide a good goal fit for both organizations—in particular, ensuring a higher quality of life for the residents of Pensacola. Both partners in this venture anticipate working on future issues of public policy that can benefit from an analytical or academic perspective.

Agency administrators and university faculty should encourage such teaming to help research and craft viable solutions to community problems and to expand problem-solving efforts. Both organizations are vital stakeholders in this process and can be mutually beneficial to each other.■


1Todd Wuestewald, Michael R. Wilds, and Paula Hogard, “Developing Police Leaders: The University–Law Enforcement Partnership,” The Police Chief 69, no. 10 (October 2002): 134.
2Michael L. Birzer, “Police Training in the 21st Century,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 68, no. 7 (1999): 16.
3U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Local Police Departments, 2003, by Matthew J. Hickman and Brian A. Reaves, NCJ 210118, May 2006, (accessed October 1, 2007), 9.
4Julie Slama, “Utah Officers Head Back to School,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 66, no. 5 (1997): 18.
5Donald M. Truxillo, Suzanne R. Bennett, and Michelle L. Collins, “College Education and Police Job Performance: A Ten-Year Study,” Public Personnel Management 27, no. 2 (1998): 269–280.
6Slama, “Utah Officers Head Back to School,” 18.
7Scott Cunningham, “The Florida Research,” The Police Chief 73, no. 8 (August 2006): 20.



From The Police Chief, vol. 74, no. 11, November 2007. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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