ince 1984, the Gaston County Police Department in North Carolina has required a four-year degree as an entry-level requirement, and the requirement has worked well for the department.
From time to time, some have wondered if the college degree requirement narrows the applicant pool, but there are always enough qualified applicants available whenever the department needs to hire. The requirement has a positive effect: by limiting the applicant pool, the requirement allows the department to focus more time and attention on the smaller number of applicants.
The four-year degree requirement ensures the department that the applicant is able to work toward and achieve a goal that takes time and commitment. Many people are looking for immediate satisfaction, and immediate satisfaction is seldom possible in law enforcement. The department seeks career-minded people who can look ahead, plan, and commit to a purpose, and are willing to make the commitment for some time. The attainment of a four-year degree demonstrates that the individual applicant can plan and commit to a long-term goal.
Upon entering a law enforcement career, the applicant will be exposed to new information and experiences that will be delivered in a variety of ways. It is hoped that on-the-job training, classroom instruction, and practical exercises will impart the knowledge and information new officers will use when performing their duties. The successful completion of a college education demonstrates that the applicant is capable of receiving and processing new information.
Applicants also benefit from the experiences of attending college. In the college setting, a student is almost always exposed to other students from different walks of life, different cultures, and diverse populations. For the traditional student, attending college may be the first step toward leaving home and taking on adult responsibilities. It may represent the first time the applicant has had the freedom to make decisions on their own without parental oversight. Attaining a four-year degree helps make the applicant ready for life and a career in law enforcement.
The degree requirement also serves as a recruiting tool. Top achievers are attracted by the higher standards. These applicants seek to use their degrees and want to become members of a department that recognizes their achievement.
At 1.3 officers per 1,000 persons served, Gaston officers are expected to be community problem solvers and good communicators. The college experience gives these applicants a head start. Analysis and assessment are critical components of the problem-solving model and applicants are likely to have developed these skills during their research for fulfilling academic requirements.
At the very least, the four-year degree requirement brings to the department applicants who are a little older. Graduating from college has allowed for some additional formative years before employment. Degreed applicants may have demonstrated public service through involvement in service associations or clubs. They may also have completed a law enforcement intern program with the department or another law enforcement agency.
The college degree requirement is not a cure-all. Careful screening and applicant processing will still be as important as they have always been. Getting the right people on board at the beginning helps determine the future of the organization. It may not work everywhere but here in Gaston County it has worked for more than 20 years. ■