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Back to Archives | Back to August 2006 Contents 

The Florida Research

By Scott Cunningham, Chief of Police, Cary, North Carolina

olice are the most visible government servants. Incidents of police misconduct and abuse of power concern everyone in the profession, because these incidents directly and indirectly lead to loss of public trust and confidence. Anything that tarnishes the image and reputation of policing needs to be examined, and police officers at every level owe a duty to the profession to police themselves.

In the early 2000s, the IACP Police Administration Committee considered that educational level might correlate to officer misconduct. To test this hypothesis, the committee undertook a study that compared discipline data from the Florida Criminal Justice State and Training Commission (CJSTC) to officers' education levels. Florida was chosen because it is an open-records state, and the data was readily accessible.

The Data
Florida-which requires a candidate to possess a high school degree to be certified as a police officer-had about 43,000 law enforcement officers in 2002. The study considered disciplinary cases decided by the state commission during the period 1997-2002. The study used this data, rather than local department data, because the CJSTC handles those disciplinary actions that can lead to loss of certification as a police officer.

The study assumed that if there was no relationship between education and discipline, the statistics should reveal that the distribution of discipline would reflect the education levels. For example, if 58 percent of the officers in the Florida study had only a high school diploma, then about 58 percent of the discipline problems would be with officers who had only a high school education. Any kind of relationship would tend to skew these results, either up or down.

The Results
The data revealed that the higher the education level, the lower the level of discipline:

  • Officers who had only high school diplomas-58 percent of officers-were the subject of 75 percent of all disciplinary actions.

  • Officers who had only associate's degrees-16 percent of officers-were the subject of 12 percent of all disciplinary actions.

  • Officers with bachelor's degrees-24 percent of officers-were the subject of 11 percent of all disciplinary actions.

Certificate revocation, the most severe form of discipline that the state can issue, was similarly distributed. Officers with high school diplomas-58 percent of the population, or a little more than half-suffered 77 percent of all certification losses, or a little more than three-quarters of the total.

This does not necessarily mean that there is a direct cause-and-effect relationship, or that an officer with an associate's or bachelor's degree will not get into trouble. But it does indicate that for some unknown reason, higher-educated officers account for fewer discipline problems at the state level than their less-educated colleagues. ■



From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 8, August 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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