Good Policing Today Begins with a Bachelor’s Degree

Good Policing Today Begins With a Baccalaureate Degree

imagesIf we are going to get serious about improving our nation’s police we will have to (again) start seriously talking about the education of our police.

The kind of police I argue for on this blog and in my new book is based on police recruits having a quality education before they strap on a gun and begin enforcing our laws.

If we want smart, well-trained, emotionally-controlled, honest and courteous police in our society we have to first make sure they have a basic education.  Over 40 years ago, I was one of the first chiefs in our nation to require a college degree for all new hires. The first police department I lead was in Burnsville, Minn., and they continue that practice today.

I have often lamented that while a national presidential commission recommended that our nation’s police be required to be college graduates, fewer than one percent of our nation’s police departments went on to make that a requirement.

However, I was pleased to learn that my old department, and the area in which I grew up, is slowly moving toward making the four-year college degree an entry requirement.  Here are some excerpts from an excellent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by Shannon Prather on January 2, 2014 which captures why education is important in improving police.

“Being an officer these days is as much about brains as it is about brawn as more suburban police chiefs seek out job candidates with four-year degrees and previous professional experience, often in outside fields, including teaching, political science and corporate America.  

Minnesota has long led the nation in peace officer standards; it’s the only state to require a two-year degree and licensing. Now, a four-year degree is becoming a more common standard for entry into departments including Columbia Heights, Edina and Burnsville. Many other departments require a four-year degree for promotion.  

“It’s not a rapid-fire change, but rather an evolution sped up by high unemployment that deepened the candidate pool and gave chiefs more choices. Officer pay and benefits can attract four-year candidates. Edina pays top-level officers $80,000; Columbia Heights pays nearly $75,000.  

“Nowadays, officers are expected to juggle a variety of tasks and that takes more education, chiefs said. Officers communicate with the public, solve problems, navigate different cultures, use computers, radios and other technology while on the move, and make split-second decisions about use of force with a variety of high-tech tools on their belt. And many of those decisions are recorded by squad car dashboard cameras, officer body cameras and even bystanders with smartphones…

 “Columbia Heights police chief Scott Nadeau said, ‘Officers with education seem to do better with problem solving, You need that breadth of knowledge. You need to know what is the difference between an immigrant and a refugee.’  

“That’s different from when Nadeau was hired, when chiefs literally sized candidates up, favoring those over 6 feet tall with broad shoulders. The community problem-solving role for police warrants more education, Nadeau said.  

“’Officers need to fully understand the problem, provide a thoughtful analysis of alternatives, research best practices and assemble a plan that includes multiple stakeholders and leverages community resources to reduce or eliminate the problem,’ he said…  

“Burnsville Police started requiring a four-year degree in 1969. They relaxed the policy briefly in the late 1980s because of a thin candidate pool, but Chief Eric Gieseke said he firmly enforces it today.  

“”The community wants a professional agency and they expect us to be highly trained and highly educated,’ Gieseke said. ‘The job has become more complex. You introduce technology. The laws are ever-changing and expectations in the community have not declined…’  

“The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, which provides police services for several north suburbs, requires only a two-year degree, but a four-year one gives candidates an edge, said spokesman Randy Gustafson.  

“’We are held to a higher public scrutiny level. You need people who are able to meet that public demand and the demands of technology,’ Gustafson said.”  

[Read the entire article at

And, in the meantime, speak out for and support higher police educational requirements in your city and state!

1 Comment

  1. I enjoyed this blog. It chimes with developments in the UK and more widely. I wasnt sure whether you had seen the attached Review which I did for the UK government, so here it is. Sorry it is quite a lot of reading!

    Happy New Year!

    Peter Peter Neyroud CBE QPM

    Resident Scholar at the Jerry Lee Centre for Experimental Criminology and Lecturer, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge,

    Visiting Fellow, Nuffield College, Oxford

    Research Associate, Oxford Centre for Criminology

    Visiting Professor, University of Chester

    Visiting Fellow, University of Teesside


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