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Back to Archives | Back to August 2006 Contents 

Support for College Degree Requirements: The Big Picture

By Louis Mayo, Ph.D., Executive Director, Police Association for College Education, Mineral, Virginia

nly the best professionally qualified person should have the ultimate-and awesome-police power of summarily depriving a person of liberty or even life. And only such a person has the tools to deal with the many problems that afflict a community. A college degree, as many authorities have pointed out, is the mark of professional qualification.

The 1967 President's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice offered the following observations on policing: "Few professions are so peculiarly charged with individual responsibility. Complexities inherent in policing further dictate that officers possess a high degree of intellect, education, tact, sound judgment, physical courage, impartiality, and honesty." The commission recommended college degrees: "The quality of policing will not improve significantly until higher education requirements are established for its personnel."15

In Standards Relating to the Urban Police Function, the American Bar Association (ABA) reinforces that idea: "Police need personnel in their ranks who have the characteristics a college education seeks to foster: intellectual curiosity, analytical ability, articulateness, and a capacity to relate the events of the day to the social, political, and historical context in which they occur."16

In addition, the federal courts have echoed the necessity for officers to have college degrees: "The need for police officers who are intelligent, articulate, mature, and knowledgeable about social and political decisions is apparent. . . . [A]college education develops and imparts the requisite level of knowledge.17

To attract and retain professional, degreed officers, a police department needs to project the image of a professional organization. This recruitment goal is consistent with improving police services and reducing officer stress factors. Part of officer stress comes from many agencies' management model: a paramilitary, hierarchical structure that supports top-down decisions. One way of relieving that stress is by decentralizing decision making in the job, moving from ineffective patrol rides to community involvement. This approach requires those qualities conveyed by a college education: maturity, discretion, and judgment. Community policing itself is requiring-and is producing-a change in police organizational culture.

Culture Shock
In order to move to a discretion-based police environment that understands and embraces basic democratic values, such as community policing, a police organization must discard the traditionally procedural, military-modeled organization that makes quality policing difficult, if not impossible. Increasing education requirements for officers will affect the police department's culture and ease the transition to community policing.

The culture of a police department that successfully requires college degrees for officers differs from that of a department that does not. The former creates a culture of responsibility; the latter, of obedience.

Community Policing: The Standard
The national commission, the ABA, and the federal courts made their recommendations before community policing was generally adopted. But it is a natural progression. College-educated officers are better able to harness their training and education and use their judgment to address a wider range of complex problems. They will focus on proactively solving problems, not fulfilling requirements. Those are the police officers the departments need.

The research by Dr. Cunningham regarding the Florida data offers clear justification for college-degree standards, if only to avoid multi-million-dollar malpractice lawsuits, as well as the resulting destruction of police reputations.

Numerous police chiefs with college degree standards report they are finding an adequate supply of well-qualified officer applicants, including minority and female officers. Community policing provides the optimal working environment for maximizing a college-educated officer's abilities. This professional working environment will also help recruit and retain college-educated officers.

The National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals has said, "The most enduring problems in criminal justice are not technical or financial-they are political."18 Changing police organizational culture is certainly political. But requiring a college degree is the first step in making the best political decisions for the city. Such decisions are critical to the chief as well as for the department's future.   ■

15 President's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, Task Force Report: The Police.
16 American Bar Association, Standards Relating to the Urban Police Function, by Frank J. Remington (Chicago: Institute of Judicial Administration, 1972).
17 Davis v. Dallas, 777 F.2d 205 (5th Cir. 1985).
18 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).



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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