Higher Education

Chapter Fourteen looks at higher education and the police. The issue of higher education has been debated for some time. One-quarter of Americans have a four-year college degree or higher. Law enforcement is significantly behind the societal trends in education. It is time to upgrade American policing.

Chief August Vollmer called for higher education for police as long ago as the early 1900s. Despite Vollmer’s perception of the need for higher education, programs were slow to develop. Policing was viewed as being very simple and not needing college educated officers to effectively perform police functions. Policing did not pay much, had limited opportunities for advancement, and a low status. For these reasons, college educated individuals were not attracted to policing.

However, a rising crime rate and ghetto riots in the 1960s created a greater interest in higher education for the police. The President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice called for improvements in policing. One of the improvements was requiring all police officers to have a baccalaureate degree.

A number of federal programs were created to assist individuals pursuing college degrees in criminal justice. The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) was created through the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. It was created to improve the effectiveness of the police. It was through LEAA that the Law Enforcement Education Program (LEEP) was established. This program provided financial assistance to those attending college. The National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals recommended in 1973 that all individuals entering policing have a baccalaureate degree.

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (Crime Control Act) of 1994 allocated money to hire new police officers to enhance the community policing effort. As part of the Crime Control Act, the Police Corps and the scholarship and recruitment program earmarked monies to reimburse tuition costs to individuals committing to work for a police department for several years after graduating from college.

Early police programs in college were focused more on training. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, these programs became more academic-oriented. This new orientation included a broader approach to the discipline. Research was added to the discipline. The quality of the faculty improved. The quality of the students improved. The quality of the curriculum also improved.

Despite the increase in the number of police applicants having at least some college experience, the police departments continued to be slow in requiring some college experience of their applicants.

Research has found some differences between the college-educated officer and the officer lacking college experience. The college-educated officer is more understanding of human behavior, less authoritarian, and had better job performance. The college-educated officer also had fewer citizen complaints, have fewer disciplinary actions taken against them, fewer job-related injuries, and fewer incidents of using deadly force. The college-educated officer appears to have had a positive impact on policing. On a negative side, some believe that the college-educated officer will be less satisfied with policing and more willing to leave policing.

Given the complexities of policing, higher education may be considered a bona fide occupational qualification. This has been the feelings of the courts. There have been legal challenges to agencies requiring applicants to have some college credits. Davis v. the City of Dallas (1985) upheld the department’s requirement that police applicants have at least 45 semester hours and a C average from an accredited university.

There exists a fear that requiring some college may discriminate against minorities. In the case of Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971), the United States Supreme Court held that if an employment practice is job related, it may be allowed as a requirement, even though it has discriminatory overtones. Using the Davis case, the court could reason that the benefits of the requirements outweighed any discriminatory effects. In fact, data collected over the years indicates that the higher education requirement did not negatively impact the minority police officer.

Citing the advantages of college-educated officers, it would appear that departments would need to support this as an entry-level requirement. Some agencies have offered higher pay for college experience, worked around the officer’s school schedule, or offered tuition reimbursement. The numerous advantages of college outweigh any disadvantages that may arise. These requirements also continue to push policing more to professionalism.

If college education is to become an entry-level requirement for policing, it is important that supporting policies be established. The benefits provided by higher education suggest that a college degree should be a requirement for initial police employment. The higher educational requirement should not adversely affect minority recruit or retention. The chief should be behind the requirements. That would be the fastest way for a police department to require higher education. Suggestions for future education focus on post-graduate programs for senior police executives.