he genesis of this article was a panel presentation at the 110th Annual IACP Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After the presentation, more than 100 law enforcement executives and police officials requested the free technical assistance provided by the Police Association for College Education (PACE) to establish bachelor's degree requirements in their departments.
To develop this article, panel members' comments were edited for magazine publication, and other departments were asked to share their experiences with requiring police recruits to have college degrees. Their efforts laid the groundwork for making a bachelor's degree the educational entry requirement for law enforcement.
Numerous studies since 1970 have concluded that higher education for police officers helps maintain integrity and discipline. Yet many chiefs ask if there is a definitive study of officers' education and its overall impact on police departments and, they want to know the advantages and disadvantages of requiring officers to have bachelor's degrees.1
The Question of Degree
In 1973 the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals called for the establishment of a national minimum education level of a four-year college degree2 as had the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice in 1967, stating the "quality of policing will not improve significantly until higher education requirements are established for its personnel."3
In general, and sometimes as an ultimate rather than an immediate goal, these national commissions have recommended the following:4
- That some years of college be required for appointment
- That higher education requirements be set for promotion
- That education programs be a matter of formal policy
- That higher education be viewed as an occupational necessity
The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies concurs: "Officers who have received a broad general education have a better opportunity to gain a more thorough understanding of society, to communicate more effectively with citizens, and to engage in the exploration of new ideas and concepts."5
Many state and local agencies require either a two-year associate's or a four-year bachelor's degree, but these make up only a small percentage of all such agencies. Almost all federal law enforcement agencies require a four-year degree.
Departments require police officers to have college degrees for many reasons:6
- Better behavioral and performance characteristics
- Fewer on-the-job injuries and assaults
- Fewer disciplinary actions from crashes and force allegations
- Less use of sick time
- Greater acceptance of minorities
- Decrease in dogmatism, authoritarianism, rigidity, and conservatism
- Fewer citizen complaints
- Promotion of higher aspirations
- Enhancement of minority recruitment
A further reason to require the college degree is to enhance the status of the profession. ■
1 Scott Cunningham, "Discipline and Educational Levels of Law Enforcement Officers: An Exploratory Report," paper presented at the 110th Annual IACP Conference, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, October 2003.
2 National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals, Standards and Goals for the Administration of Justice (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1973).
3 President's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, Task Force Report: The Police (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1967).
4 Jeremy Travis, "Education in Law Enforcement: Beyond the College Degree," paper presented at the Forum on the Police and Higher Education, Center for Research in Law and Justice, University of Illinois, Chicago, Illinois, February 10, 1995.
5 Theron Bowman, "Diversity, Education, and Professionalism: Arlington's Path to Excellence in Policing," lecture, Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C., October 24, 2001, (www.heritage.org/Research/Crime/hl719.cfm), June 21, 2006.
6 Theron Bowman, "Educate to Elevate," Community Links (August 2002): 11-13.