The Case for College Cops: Now More than Ever

Unknown-6According to an article in Police Quarterly, better-educated police officers resort less often to using force.

“Weighing in on a long-simmering dispute, a recent study for the Police Quarterly shows that officers with some college education are less likely to resort to force than those who never attend college.

“The study found no difference with respect to officer education when it came to arrests or searches of suspects. But it found that in encounters with crime suspects, officers with some college education or a four-year degree resorted to using force 56 percent of the time, while officers with no college education used force 68 percent of the time (my emphasis).

“’Force’ included verbally threatening suspects, grabbing or punching them, using mace or pepper spray, hitting suspects with a baton, handcuffing, throwing to the ground, or pointing or firing a gun at them.

“’Up until now, the studies have been much more anecdotal, indicating that education may matter,’ said William Terrill, an associate professor of criminal justice at Michigan State and a co-author of the study. ‘We found that a college education significantly reduces the likelihood of force occurring (my emphasis).  The difference is real. It truly is because the officer was more educated, not because the suspect was more resistant.’

“Arrests, searches and the use of force are the ‘big three’ decision-making points for police officers. The Michigan State study was the first to look simultaneously at all three vis-à-vis officer education. It found that education did not make much difference when it came to arrests and searches, confirming a number of other studies in the field. Arrests and searches are more constrained by law than the use of force.

“’There’s so much more discretion with the use of force and more room for biases to play out,’ Terrill said. ‘High-school educated officers are more apt to say, ‘I’m the law and I have the authority to make you do it, and I’m going to put my hands on you and make you do it.’ Officers with a four-year degree are more skilled at resolving problems without having to resort to force. They’re giving the citizen alternative means of compliance. They’re not just relying on the stick.’

“The schooling of police officers has been the subject of debate in the U.S. since the early 1900s, when only one of every 10 officers graduated from high school. Since the 1930s, several high-profile national commissions have since recommended that departments consider higher education as a requirement for employment as a way to ‘professionalize’ the police force and improve its public image….

“Yet police departments have been slow to change. As reported in a Bureau of Justice Statistics study from 2003, 83 percent of all U.S. police agencies require a high school diploma, but only 8 percent require some college. Only 1 percent of police agencies require a four-year college degree..

“’Irrespective of experience, college is going to give you bang for the buck right out of the gate… By having an education, you’re actually speeding up the process of experience and you’re getting the effect of better policing in the form of less force (my emphasis).'”

See more HERE.

13 Comments

  1. Have to respectfully add another dimension Chief. It’s more along the lines of “maturity” than it is “college”. Many officers I work with feel that around 26 is the minimum age we should be hiring for this position. While I fully respect the halls of higher learning, they cannot hope to correct the “me first” attitude and self absorption that is rampant in out society. “Seasoning” in life may help in doing so…

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  2. Hi, I wrote a blog about the police officers in New York. During my conversations with them, I found a lot of officers that have a college degree, and they are using their skills in their job. (For example, several officers I met graduated with a psychology degree) Not just those who need help, but also their peers. I also heard, on the other side, some police offers complained that “you don’t need a college degree to be a cop”. Well, I am glad you wrote this and I think many officers should realize that how precious their college degrees are 🙂

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  3. Reblogged this on Improving Police and commented:

    Philadelphia PD’s decision to drop their 2-yr college requirement for police applicants is dead wrong. Instead, they should raise the entrance requirement to a 4 yr college degree. We need police leaders casting a vision of greatness and professionalism from a new kind of police officer that can help raise trust and support. That’s what you get with college cops!

    Especially now when use of force is the major issue in urban policing. Philadelphia needs to think this through.

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  4. The education debate aside, I believe Philadelphia PD made a good decision by raising the minimum age from 19 to 22.

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  5. I agreed that college degree is important; however, it doesn’t mean a thing when a cop continues to violates people’s rights. Look at the FBI. All their agents have college degrees, but it didn’t stop them from illegally spying on the American people.

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  6. Emotional intelligence maybe more important than a IQ; however, I am still amazed about how cops after 20 to 30 years on the job still the “me first” attitude and the self absorption. Of course, many of them feel that they have a sense of entitlement just because they are cops. They act like a lot of wealthy people that if it wasn’t for them, this country would not be where it is today.

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