e need to advance the educational levels of police officers. Today's challenges-greater ethnic and racial diversity in the service population, increased outside scrutiny of police practices, added responsibilities arising from homeland security-require officers to be able to think critically. Higher education does not guarantee that a candidate will become a great cop, but it does promote critical thinking. And requiring a college degree of incoming police officers is an effective way to foster organization-wide critical thinking.
Law enforcement leaders refer to policing as a profession. Is it one? A hallmark of a profession is its high educational requirements. Medicine, for example, is considered a profession. Before one can become a doctor, one must meet rigorous educational standards: a bachelor's degree, a degree from an accredited medical school, and residency. It takes years to meet all the requirements, and all of it is done at the expense of the candidate.
Compare these standards with the educational requirements of a typical police officer: a high school diploma or GED, followed by less than six months of academy training and several months of field training at the expense of the police department. Until we raise these requirements, many will refuse to see policing as a profession.
Low educational requirements not only diminish the prestige of policing but also prevent police from meeting the high expectations of the people who invest heavily in each police officer position. In California, salary and benefit costs can easily exceed $130,000 per officer per year. At this rate, many taxpayers and elected officials expect officers to have more than just high school diplomas. And they also expect much more from the police departments that employ them.
The Redlands Police Department is moving to increase the education levels of its officers and is "putting its money where its mouth is." The entry-level education requirement for police officers is 60 semester units of college, but most officers have bachelor's degrees at hiring. Educational requirements become higher as officers are promoted up through the ranks. For instance, a sergeant candidate must now possess a bachelor's degree at the time of appointment, and a lieutenant must possess a master's degree, or enroll in a graduate program, upon promotion to captain. To make it easier for officers to complete their education, the department offers flexible schedules and will pay for the officers' education at the University of California rate.
Clearly, education is important to the Redlands Police Department-important enough that it drives the department's hiring and promotional decisions; important enough that schedules will conform to school requirements; important enough that the officers' tuition and fees are paid by the department.
But it is more important to the community and the department's credibility. The notion of police legitimacy and its connection to education levels was underscored not long ago when a fatal officer-involved shooting was successfully defended in both the courts of law and public opinion. Most of the six officers involved had bachelor's degrees, a fact which supported the department's attorney's claim that these officers were smart, well-trained, highly educated critical thinkers who were forced to take the only option left them by the suspect. In addition, after the officers' names and backgrounds were made public, the community rallied around them and supported the department in large part because of its professionalism.
Advanced education will continue to be a critical requirement in the future for Red-lands police officers. The community expects, and deserves, nothing less than a highly educated, professional police department. ■