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Back to Archives | Back to August 2006 Contents 

Tulsa, Oklahoma

By David D. Been, Chief of Police, and Harry W. Stege, Chief of Police (Retired), Tulsa, Oklahoma

he requirement of a college degree as an employment standard was the goal of the Tulsa Police Department long before it was actually instituted in 1996. In the mid-1970s this initiative began with a tar-get date of having the bachelor's degree requirement by 1982. Unfortunately, the collective bargaining process halted this progression to the full degree requirement, and the Tulsa Police Department settled on a requirement of 108 credit hours with a C average from an accredited university or college. That requirement lasted from 1981 until the full degree requirement was instituted in 1996. Notwithstanding this lower level, most officers actually hired during this period did in fact already have their bachelor's degrees.

he Tulsa educational standard also had additional setbacks. In 1977 the department was recruiting too few black applicants. To correct this, Tulsa started a program to attract young black men and women. The program was simple. If a young black man or woman met all the criteria for employment as a Tulsa officer except for education, the Tulsa Police Department would lend him or her the money for books and tuition with funds donated by the public and employ him or her for up to 40 hours a week on a schedule that met his or her academic needs. After meeting the incrementally increasing educational requirement, he or she would be employed as an apprentice police officer and would enter the police academy. Upon graduation from the academy, he or she would become a Tulsa police officer. The program was successful; claims of reverse discrimination caused it to be terminated.

As a way to further the educational goal, an educational financial incentive was offered. Originally, officers who had attained associate's degrees were eligible for an additional $50 per month, and those who had attained bachelor's degrees were eligible for $100 per month. This incentive certainly encouraged those who did not have their degrees to work toward that end. This incentive has now been extended to include advanced degrees where an officer with a master's degree or above receives an additional $150 per month.

The current education levels of the Tulsa Police Department show that 82.3 percent of all sworn personnel have attained their bachelor's, or higher, degree. While 10.5 percent of the officers have attained only associate's degrees, it should be noted that many of these officers were hired before the first college-education requirements were instituted in 1975.

Recruiting efforts have been under way for quite some time to bolster the numbers of minorities and women in the department and a small degree of success has been achieved. In 1990, Tulsa's sworn force was 9 percent African American, 4.1 percent Native American, 0.4 percent Hispanic American, and 0.3 percent Asian American. Women constituted 10.9 percent of the sworn workforce.

The current demographic makeup of the 804 sworn officers of the Tulsa Police Department is 77.1 percent white, 11.2 per-cent African American, 9.3 percent Native American, 1.3 percent Hispanic American, and 1.0 percent Asian American. Women constitute 14.3 percent of the sworn ranks of the department.

The next recruit class, slated to start in August, demonstrates Tulsa's commitment to increasing the diversity of the police department. The composition of the next 20-member recruit class is 45 percent minority, including three African American men, two Hispanic American men, two white women, one Asian American woman, and one Native American man.

Tulsa's current recruiting activities have expanded beyond the typical career fair and college visit. Tulsa undertakes proactive class visits that specifically target certain classes, such as criminal justice and Spanish. The department's presence on the World Wide Web has been an effective recruitment strategy at this time.

There is no diminishing the value of word-of-mouth endorsements, both from department members as well as the community. Tulsa offers an added cash incentive of $200 to current employees, sworn as well as nonsworn, who recruit personnel to the department. This bonus is paid to the employee once the recruit successfully completes field training.

A couple of interesting notes regarding Tulsa's recruiting efforts: most applicants are visiting the Internet to learn more about the department, and the higher education requirement has not made recruiting personnel more difficult for Tulsa than it is for departments without this requirement.

The assumptions regarding the benefits of a college-educated officer have long been debated. Some of the more commonly offered (though not exhaustive) benefits include better critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, more maturity, more effective communication skills (written as well as verbal), and a less authoritarian demeanor (resulting in fewer citizen complaints). Unfortunately, these benefits are difficult to quantify, and comparative, historical, base line data for the period before Tulsa's degree requirement is unavailable.

Many of the normal standard measures of performance (such as cases closed, arrests made, and citizen complaints) seem to fluctuate too greatly from year to year to be of value. But one area where the educational requirement does show an impact is in the higher level of community involvement that college-educated officers maintain. Whether coaching, mentoring, teaching, or volunteering, Tulsa officers are engaged with the community. Serving on boards or committees, taking or teaching leadership development courses, having a lifelong-learning mentality to strive continually to better oneself-all of these, we believe, are directly related to our higher educational standard. Continuing education is not only encouraged, it is expected and respected. ■



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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