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Back to Archives | Back to August 2006 Contents 

Multnomah County, Oregon

By Garr Nielsen, Captain, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, Portland, Oregon

he Multnomah County Sheriff's Office is believed to be the first nonfederal major law enforcement agency in the United States to require baccalaureate degrees for entry-level sworn officers, in this case deputy sheriffs. The sheriff's office established the college degree requirement in 1965 during the administration of Sheriff Donald E. Clark. He tells the story in his book A Forward Step: Educational Backgrounds for Police, published by Charles A. Thomas in 1966.

A year after the appearance of Clark's book, the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice issued its Task Force Report: The Police. That report, written during a period of high crime, social unrest, and generally ineffective police response, said that the failure to set high standards for police service had been costly for both police and society and that the quality of police service would not improve until higher educational requirements were established.

The college degree requirement for the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office coincided with the introduction of an innovative neighborhood policing model that made line staff responsible for engaging the community's help in addressing public safety problems. An early adopter of community-oriented policing, the agency expects its deputies to know psychology and the law, to be empathetic and flexible, to solve problems, to take charge, to exercise police powers with discretion and without prejudice, and to act with integrity, self-assurance, and courage under stress.

Given the agency's high expectations for its deputies, it seeks the most qualified candidates, and it has found that a college education is good preparation for community-oriented deputies. In the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, college-educated deputies generally exhibit the following qualities:

  • Greater knowledge of procedures, functions, and principles relevant to their present and future police assignments

  • Better appreciation of their professional role and its importance to the criminal justice system and in a democratic society

  • A more desirable psychological makeup: alertness, empathy, flexibility, initiative, and intelligence

  • Greater range of interpersonal skills centered on their ability to communicate, to be responsive to others, and to exercise benevolent leadership

  • Greater ability to analyze situations, to exercise independent judgment, and to make judicious decisions

  • Personal values consistent with the agency's values

The department has accumulated anecdotal evidence to suggest that college-educated law enforcement deputies are less authoritarian, more liberal, and more flexible. They are less inclined to develop the rigid attitudes fostered by police experiences. They are generally more willing to experiment with creative problem solving, assume leadership roles, and accept challenges. They are also more sensitive and better able to deal with differences.

The agency has also noted a correlation between higher education and the following outcomes:

  • Fewer injuries

  • Fewer injuries by assault

  • Fewer disciplinary problems

  • Fewer preventable accidents

  • Fewer sick days

  • Fewer allegations of excessive physical force

The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, which today has more than 100 employees in its law enforcement division, enjoys the support of elected officials who recognize the value in a college-educated work force and has been able to compensate employees for their educational accomplishments. It is common practice for law enforcement agencies to offer premium pay for educational achievement, and Multnomah County pays that premium at the outset of employment because its officials recognize the advantage of hiring new deputies who already have college degrees. After 40 years of experience with a college-degree requirement for new sheriff's deputies, the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office has an institutional culture that values the college degree as necessary preparation for a career in law enforcement. Its personnel take great pride in the degree requirement and have demonstrated a willingness to protect it as a source of honor. ■



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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