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Police Association for College Education (PACE)

March 18, 2004


SUBJECT:  Studies, Case Law, Quotes, Standards and Trends in Support of a College Education for Police Officers


1.  Purpose.  Provide information regarding the need to require college education for police applicants.


2.  Discussion. Some 68 years ago Chief August Vollmer, the Dean of American Policing, called for mandatory college education for police officers.  As society has become more complex, basic police qualifications have not maintained the same pace.  If police officers are to be considered a profession in their own right, then a college education, the hallmark of a profession, must be mandated to better serve society.  Departments requiring college degrees for officers have increased - not decreased - minority hiring. Establishing an associate’s degree requirement is a good start towards ultimately achieving the recommendation of several national commissions and the Federal Courts of a bachelor’s degree standard.


3.  Facts.

a.  Minorities.

    The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has recommended higher education for police officers as a means of reducing police abuse of power against minorities. (NAACP/Harvard Study)

  • The former Director of The National Institute of Justice, Jeremy Travis, found that the level of education for African-American police officers was similar to that of white officers.
  • In 1978 Patrick Murphy, then Director of Public Safety in Washington, DC, found that African-American police officers had more education than their white counterparts.  This is true for most of the nation.
  • In Baltimore, over twenty years ago, when a four-year degree entrance position (called a police agent) was established, the number of applicants from the African-American community actually increased. This also has been true for many departments when establishing a four-year degree requirement.

    b. Performance.

    A recent large-scale study of California police officers found that, “Officers with fewer college units tended to have significantly more complaints than officers with a higher number of units.”  (Wilson, Journal of California Law Enforcement, V33, N4, 1999)

  • In the so-called “Rampart Division Scandal” of the Los Angeles Police Department (murdering suspects, planting evidence, perjury, etc.) only one of the many involved officers was a college graduate, in spite of a high percentage of college graduate officers overall in the Department.  (Unpublished study by Dennis Porter, Los Angeles, 1999)
  • The Blue Ribbon Commission in Chicago recommended that officers have bachelor’s degrees as a move to reduce corruption. (Report of the Commission on Integrity, Report to Mayor Daly, 1997)
  • A Rand study determined that college grads had only an 8% civilian complaint rate compared to a 24% rate for non-college grads.
  • Of the NYCPD officers arrested for corrupt acts from 1993 to 1997, 86% would not have been hired had an associate’s degree been required.  (Gerald W. Lynch, President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, USA Today, August 6, 1997)
  • Another study found that in a midwestern city, officers without a college education accounted for 42% of the total founded complaints while only accounting for 29% of the total officer population.  (American Journal of Police, V11, N2, 1992)
  • In Dade County, Florida research found that a police officer with a four-year degree had a 73% chance of superior performance, 65% if he or she possessed a two-year degree and a 50 % chance if he or she had a high school diploma. (Journal of Police Science and Administration, V5, N1, March 1977)
  • A study of 118 nonsupervisory patrol officers from Lincoln, Nebraska found that higher education was associated with less dogmatic beliefs (more open-mindedness) and better patrol performance.  (Journal of Police Science and Administration, V6, N3, September 1978)


c.       Standards/Trends.

At least fifty percent of Rhode Island’s cities and towns now require police applicants to have at least 60 college credits. (RISP website)

  • Tulsa, Oklahoma; Charleston, South Carolina; Smithfield, Rhode Island and over 30 other local departments require a four-year degree for entering officers.  They are maintaining or increasing their numbers of minority officers.
  • State Police Agencies that require four-year degrees include New Jersey, Illinois and the North Dakota Highway Patrol.
  • The International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) and The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) have passed resolutions in favor of the four-year degree requirement.
  • Of the 678,000 police officers in the country, over 153,000 (22.6%) possess four-year degrees and the number had been growing by 2% per year.  A study by Craig Campbell indicates the number is now declining because LEAP educated officers (a tuition reimbursement program in the 1970’s) are retiring and are being replaced with new officers without college.
  • The number of police departments requiring some college for entering officers increased by over 100% from 1990 to 1997, from 14% to 32%.  Between 1990 and 2000 the number of departments requiring associate’s degrees increased by 100% and the number of departments requiring bachelor’s degrees also increased 100%.  (Local Police Departments 1997, 2000 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics)
  • Minnesota requires all police applicants to possess a two-year degree.
  • In Davis v. Dallas, a 1984 federal court case, college education was judged to be a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ).

e.  Quotes.

    The President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice (1967), the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals (1973) and the American Bar Association Project on Standards for Criminal Justice (1974) all recommended requiring applicants to possess a four-year degree.

  • In his 1936 book, The Police in Modern Society, Chief August Vollmer, the Dean of American Policing, called for mandatory college education.
  • The complexity of the police task is as great as that of any other profession.  (President’s Crime Commission)
  • Police officers are the most powerful people in the nation - more powerful than the President of the United States, because they have the unique power to summarily deprive a person of their liberty or even their life. (U.S. Supreme Court Justice)
  • They have larger discretion than prosecutors, judges, and legislators... They are the communities’ most important social workers. (Norval Morris, former Dean of the University of Chicago Law School)
  • Officers need a knowledge of criminal law and procedure, including related constitutional issues, superior to the average attorney.  (Lou Mayo, Ph.D., Executive Director, Police Association for College Education)
  • Thus, police officers are left with their more essential task which includes social control in a period of increasing social turmoil, preservation of our constitutional guarantees, and exercise of the broadest discretion – sometimes involving life and death decisions – of any government service.  The need for police officers who are intelligent, articulate, mature and knowledgeable about social and political conditions is apparent.  A college education develops and imparts the requisite level of knowledge.  (Davis v. Dallas, 777 F. 2d 205, 6th Cir., 1985, Certiorari denied to Supreme Court May 19, 1986)
  • First, the possession of a regular college degree should be made a minimum prerequisite for employment as a policeman.  This standard will later be changed (to a graduate degree) as professional schools turn out graduates…Many a young man with a college degree does not choose to become a policeman BECAUSE his diploma is not required…At an earlier time, when most of the people were illiterate or barely literate, when physicians knew less about diseases than a modern practical nurse, when lawyers barely knew how to use a few forms and were considered educated if they had a cursory acquaintance with Blackstone, policemen with a background of eight years of school were adequately prepared for the job…But all this has changed in the past two generations, and the police, by hewing to old standings, is falling back from year to year, increasingly becoming a field of opportunities for those who can do no better than join the simpler service occupations.  (The Functions of the Police in a Modern Society by Bittner, National Institute of Mental Health, 1970)


e.       Preservation of Democracy.


    Since a principal function of police is safeguarding of democratic processes, if the police fail to conform their conduct to the requirements of law, they subvert the democratic process and frustrate the achievement of a principal police function.  (Standard 5.1 of Urban Police Function, American Bar Association, 1973)


f.        Cost.


    The cost of providing a college education to novice police officers will decrease since all applicants will be required to possess a college education.

4.  Conclusion.  At the conclusion of this chapter, a judgment made at its beginning bears repeating:  “The most enduring problems facing the criminal justice system are not technical or financial—they are political”.  (National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals, 1973).  The Police Association for College Education (PACE) hopes that we have contributed significantly to facilitate your effort to raise the college education standards of police in Rhode Island. As Saunders stated in his classic book, Upgrading the American Police, “to improve policing we must first improve the police (including education), instead of focusing on procedures and technology.”  Pace stands ready to further assist you to this end in any possible way.


Note: This paper is an updated version of one originally prepared by Police Association for College Education (PACE), for Senator J. Clement Cicilline as research in support of An Act Relating to Law Enforcement Officers 98-S 2183, as testimony for the Governor’s Select Commission on Race and Police-Community Relations and as testimony for An Act Relating To Aptitude And Psychological Test For Law Enforcement Candidates 03-H 5401.

Jeffrey D. Coons/401-392-0827

Approved by: Louis A. Mayo, Ph.D.

Executive Director, PACE

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