Why Not Raise the Entry Bar for the Police?

It’s weird: one group of heavily unionized public workers is under a constant barrage of claims of being underqualified, while another, with much lower educational standards, gets a free pass on those grounds. I’m referring to teachers and police officers respectively. I raise this comparison after reading this (boldface mine):

…the majority of those in law enforcement fit a profile that is not diverse: usually white, usually male, and usually lacking a college degree.

I want to be clear. I am not one of those people who believe that anyone with a college degree is by definition smarter than those without one. My grandmother lacks a high school diploma but is full of more wisdom, and more financial sense, than a lot of people I know. But I also believe that having too much of the same worldview is rarely a good thing. I would question the effectiveness of a police department that was comprised entirely of Ivy leaguers in the same way I question the effectiveness of a police department comprised almost entirely of those who haven’t set foot on a college campus. For instance, think of how often police officers come into contact with college students during a protest. Wouldn’t it make sense that an officer may react differently if he had actually been in the shoes of a college student before? Furthermore, data confirm a connection between education level and police behavior.

According to a 2006 report by USA Today, “In an analysis of disciplinary cases against Florida cops from 1997 to 2002, the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that officers with only high school educations were the subjects of 75% of all disciplinary actions. Officers with four-year degrees accounted for 11% of such actions.”

Police Chief Magazine similarly published findings that indicate that officers with bachelor of arts degrees performed on par with officers who had 10 years’ additional experience. And yet police departments have struggled to toughen up their educational requirements in part because recruiters are concerned that the relatively low pay offered by most entry-level law enforcement jobs would not be enough to attract college graduates…. Of course this is another part of the problem. We want men and women in law enforcement who treat their jobs as police officers, as what they are: some of the most important jobs in our country that carry a great responsibility. Yet we pay them on par with postal workers.

You get the policing system you pay for. Maybe we shouldn’t be so cheap, while at the same time, we should raise the bar for entry into a demanding profession that represents the state’s monopoly on violence.

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7 Responses to Why Not Raise the Entry Bar for the Police?

  1. realthog says:

    Obviously, like any sane person, I agree with the tenor of the remarks, but I’m puzzled by one thing:

    the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that officers with only high school educations were the subjects of 75% of all disciplinary actions. Officers with four-year degrees accounted for 11% of such actions.

    Surely, if only a small minority of officers have college degrees, those percentages are more or less in line with per capita expectations? In fact, they could even mean that the degreed officers were, per capita, committing more acts of violence.

  2. Eric says:

    I am similarly puzzled by the same portion – aside from realthog’s note (are the data corrected for the relative proportion of each educational level),

    “the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that officers with only high school educations were the subjects of 75% of all disciplinary actions. Officers with four-year degrees accounted for 11% of such actions.”

    75% by officers with only a high-school diploma
    11% by officers with a 4-year degree

    Who are the other 14%? Masters and PhDs? People lacking even a HS diploma?

    • onkelbob says:

      I think the answer is the in-betweener’s, i.e., 2 year degree or some college; perhaps those who came from the military or other LEO schooling. I doubt that people lacking a HS diploma are admitted to police academies, (The linked article states that plainly for LA county LEO’s) and those having Master’s and above are already counted in the 4 Year college degree category.

  3. anthrosciguy says:

    How about making it simpler; how about cops report other cops behaving badly. And cop management disciplining the bad actors, and firing them if they continue their bad actions. Until that happens it doesn’t matter how much or little education they have. If it does happen it doesn’t matter how much or little education they have. The way we’re doing it now it’s only natural that police departments get worse, with more bad actors performing bad actions. If they change their ways they become better over time.

    Really, education enters into it very little, if at all. I’d think, if anything, while if they’re smarter (and education doesn’t actually demonstrate that as much as we’d like to imagine) they perhaps could learn to use those smarts to defuse situations, but also the smarter they are they better they’ll be at justifying bad actions to themselves and others.

  4. albanaeon says:

    Part of why a better educated police force would be less likely to engage in violence is that education teaches things like critical thinking, deliberation, and forethought.

    As well, colleges tend to be quite a bit more diverse and eye opening for many. High schools often operate under cliques and hierarchies that mirror the local area. And it would not be surprising if a fresh graduate just carries forward those assumptions to the police force. Its demonstrably harder to do that in a college environment.

    But the US currently doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on having an educated, thoughtful populace in any manner.

  5. youngdoug says:

    Go learn from the UK before deciding if college graduates might be better or not. The Brit police are not perfect by any means, but the whole concept of ‘policing by consent’ and the police as normal citizens bound by the same laws as everybody else seems to work much better than in the States.

    AFAIK the local police forces in the States are, at their worst, fiefdoms of the sheriff (?) answerable to the local politicians. There’s your problem right there.

    I can’t see that college graduates make better police officers – they don’t seem to in the UK (though no worse). What makes good police officers is good training and a shared ethos, with everybody answerable to the law.

  6. This touches on the galling problem in all of the job market these days.
    And education, I think, is a red herring.

    Pay is too low in a wide range of jobs that are quite important enough to require people who have attributes (innate or acquired) to perform the job properly.
    And in some professions, pay is actually rather too high, attracting people who are in it just for the money, and may also be somehow ill-suited for the positions.

    In either of these scenarios, inserting an education requirement into the process, no matter how sensible (or even necessary) it might be, isn’t going to fix the real problem.

    In both situations, you’re going to have people willing & able to invest in the education required to get the job for reasons we wouldn’t necessarily think were admirable motivations.
    OR, you’re going to have people who are unable or unwilling to invest in the education required to get the job, even though their motivation would’ve been highly admirable.

    Pay needs to reflect a variety of motivating factors & job conditions.

    A recent local article about a 911 operator center hiring:
    Everyone recognizes that the pay is lousy considering the work, what the person in the position has to do, and be capable of.

    Yet they say, about the job requirement for that 911 operator job: “You need to want to help people.”

    Like the Dr. Tom Catena types of the world? How many people like that exist in the world who are going to want to work at a 911 call center, let alone be also qualified?

    You can’t depend on having enough people with a do-good “calling”, who are also able, capable, qualified, and WILLING, to fill entire police departments, law enforcement agencies, and 911 call centers, for less than comfortable wages.

    Thus, without the pay incentive, the gap is filled by the desperate & dubious, instead of the many appropriate & qualified people who would prefer to be in these positions, and would be good at them… but instead go into other professions because they don’t see the advantages to be worth the risks or working conditions, and want to provide better for themselves & their families.

    There seems to be a similar issue with teachers, and geniuses who go to work in the financial sector instead of sciences.

    It seems to me often, that people have a disconnect between what they’d be willing to do, and what others should be willing to do.
    People easily justify their own job choices based on pay and workplace conditions, but expect other people, who civilization depends upon, to all be motivated solely on faith and a higher calling or something.

    If everyone was motivated totally on reasons other than pay, we’d have a society filled with nothing but nuns and serial killers.

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