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Education in Law Enforcement: Beyond the College Degree

Forum on the Police and Higher Education Presented at the Center for Research in Law and Justice University of Illinois

History of the Issue

The issue of education as it relates to the police is a long-standing one -- in fact, of longer standing than some might think. The most familiar accounting of the roots of the issue takes us back to the 1960's, to the various blue ribbon commissions established partly in response to the misconduct of some police officers during the urban riots of the time and the consequent need for greater professionalization. We all know that one of the recommendations of the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, established in 1967, was "that all police personnel with general enforcement powers have baccalaureate degrees." This was, of course, presented as "an ultimate" rather than an immediate, goal. [ President's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, "The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society," in Classics of Criminology , ed. Joseph E. Jacoby, Oak Park, Ill.: Moore Publishing Company, Inc., 1979:328.] In general, the various national commissions recommended:

That some years of college be required for appointment;

That higher requirements be set for promotion;

That education programs be a matter of formal policy;

That higher education should be viewed as an occupational necessity. [ Carter David L., Allen D. Sapp, and Darrel W. Stephens, The State of Police Education: Policy Direction for the 21st Century , Washington, D. C.: Police Executive Research Forum, 1989:x.]

LEEP (the Law Enforcement Education Program), as part of the omnibus crime act of the following year, provided the funding that began to make the recommendations of the President's Commission a reality.

The roots of the movement to increase the level of police education are actually much deeper:

Robert Peele made reference to the need for a professionally trained police force [1829].

The first real emphasis on professional training and education for police in this country came from August Vollmer, the father of modern policing. As long ago as 1916 he proposed that police have college degrees.

Due largely to Vollmer's work, the University of California at Berkeley began to offer law enforcement-related courses at that time [ca 1916]. [ Eskridge, Chris, "College and the Police: A Review of the Issues," Police and Policing: Contemporary Issues , ed. Dennis Jay Kenney, New York: Praeger, 1989:7.]

The 1931 Wickersham Commission (National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement) gave national recognition to the need for increased educational standards for the police. [ Carter, Sapp, and Stephens, State of Police Education :1.]

Need for New Models of Education/Training

This digression for a mini-history lesson was made for a reason. We in this room need no convincing about the value of higher education to law enforcement. We are "the choir." I think Herman Goldstein put the matter aptly and succinctly when he stated the rationale for college education in starkly functional terms: "The police," he wrote, "must recruit college graduates if they are to acquire their share of the able, intelligent young people from each year's addition to the work force." [ Quoted in Pate, Antony M., and Edwin E. Hamilton, "The New York City Police Cadet Corps: Final Evaluation Report," unpublished report, Washington, D. C.: Police Foundation, November 13, 1991 (National Institute of Justice Grant 86-IJ-CX-0025):5.] And we receive some comfort from the fact that requirement of a college education for police has won judicial backing. [ Carter, David L., Allen D. Sapp, and Darrel W. Stephens, "Higher Education as a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ) for Police: A Blueprint," American Journal of Police 7, 2 (1988):3, 7-10. The case was Davis v. City of Dallas 777 F.2d 205 (5th Cir. 1985, Certiorari Denied to Supreme Court May 19, 1986). ]

But as you are well aware, many others do not share our conviction. The movement to educate the police did not really begin in earnest until the 1960's. But the very deep roots of the issue, the fact that it has been debated for these many years and is still a matter of some controversy, suggests that we need to continue to be "proselytizers" and advocates -- to the extent we see ourselves in that role -- if we are to win adherents.

In addition, although we have come a long way in police education, some of us may feel the growth has not met all the expectations. That higher education has not been adopted as fully as we would hope may have something to do with the structure of policing, which some feel inhibits systemwide change. [ Mastrofski, Stephen D., "The Prospects of Change in Police Patrol: A Decade in Review," American Journal of Police IX, 3 (1990):1.] Some are not convinced of the value of higher education for the police because of the admitted difficulty of measuring its effects.

The Extent of Higher Education among Police

Although the issue of higher education still generates debate, the numbers cannot be challenged: they demonstrate how far we have come.

According to a study sponsored by PERF [Police Executive Research Forum], under the direction of David Carter of Michigan State, there has been steady growth in education levels over the past 20 years:

An increasing number of departments require some type of college experience for employment or promotion. [ Carter, Sapp, and Stephens, State of Police Education :38, 54; and Carter, David L., and Allen D. Sapp, "College Education and Policing," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 61, 1 (January 1992):10.]

The number of officers who have no years of college has dropped by half since 1970. [ Carter, Sapp, and Stephens, State of Police Education :38-39.]

More than 60% [62%] of the departments surveyed had at least one policy supporting higher education, either through tuition assistance, incentive pay, or some other way.

The level of education of African-American officers was about the same as for whites -- 13.6 years compared to 13.7. [ Carter, Sapp, and Stephens, State of Police Education :40.]

So by comparison to the past, there has been improvement. However, the rise in education level is in part the result of the increased level of education in the general population. [ Carter, Sapp, and Stephens, State of Police Education :73.] It is still the case that:

Only about 14 percent of the departments surveyed by PERF require more than a high school diploma or equivalent for entry;

Almost three-fourths have no policies, formal or informal, requiring college education for promotion. [ Carter, Sapp, and Stephens, State of Police Education :54,55.]

These figures suggest that we still have work to do.

I should also add that in training too, we have come a long way, thanks in particular to the work of the POST [Peace Officer Standards and Training] commissions. They have raised the level of police training over the years:

In 1960 only three states had enacted compulsory training;

By 1990 training was required for most full-time law enforcement officers in all 50 states. [ Cox, Barbara G., and Richter H. Moore, Jr., "Toward the Twenty-First Century: Law Enforcement Training Now and Then," Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice , VIII, 3 (August 1992):245-47.]

Rethinking Education/Training

Our commitment to higher education is a given. But I think we need to look at it not as a goal, but the means toward a goal, that goal being better policing. When viewed this way, education has to be ongoing, and better policing has to be a constant pursuit. Reaching the goal will span the entire career of the individual officer. It is a lifetime quest. Part of the reason is that the dimensions of the crime problem have changed and will change again.

Change requires a commensurate response, and not just in the technology used to deal with whatever way the crime problem manifests itself. If the broader goal is better policing, and higher education becomes only one means toward that end, it would be to our advantage to look in a lot of directions to find other means, other models. So I would like to broaden our vision of the education process, and to suggest "inventorying" and rethinking the multiple components of that process -- in the way education/training is structured, in the curricula, in the way we seek to attract recruits, in the way we build leadership, in the way we "deliver" education/training "products," and so on. This exploration itself has to be an ongoing process, a continuous pursuit of new methods and structures to meet new needs. It is going to further blur the distinction between education and training.

Change in the academies. Departments adopting or considering adopting community policing may feel the college-educated officer is the preferred candidate. But they may also want to explore additional options that shape the experiences of recruits. The New Haven, Connecticut, Police Department is an example of an agency that has taken this latter route. It has adopted a radically new education model. The model has several components:

Abandonment of the paramilitary structure of the academy and its replacement with one that more closely resembles an institution of higher education. Recruits no longer wear uniforms, and the academy (renamed the "Division of Training and Education") is headed by a civilian director.

A refocusing of the curriculum -- arguably a more important change. Formerly the emphasis was on rigorous physical training, with frequent use of the familiar battleground metaphors. Now all training centers on community policing, and the emphasis is on problem-solving, conflict resolution, diversity training, and acquiring organizational skills. Previously, only the minimum State requirements were taught. Now, recruits study such problems as sexual harassment, bias and hate crimes, HIV-AIDS, stress, and violence against women. There are course options in conversational Spanish and American sign language, among others. The students learn to deal with "special populations," such as gay and lesbian people and, with New Haven a college town, college students.

A minimal number of in-house faculty. Their ranks have been pared down, but they are supplemented by faculty from local institutions of higher education, such as Yale and the University of New Hampshire. [ Bonafonte, Steven J., "Informal Site Visitation of Community-Based Law Enforcement Agencies," unpublished report, Washington, D. C.: U. S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, April 4, 1994. Description of experiential learning from California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), Annual Report, 1990 , Sacramento, Cal., n.p., n.d.:15. ]

Emphasis on experiential learning. This type of learning is, as you may know, a highly participatory instructional method in which students draw on their experience, knowledge, and imagination to solve problems. The conventional classroom setting is a foreign concept. Instead, there is free and open exchange of ideas and the method refocuses the instructor's role from that of deliverer of information to that of guide and coach.

In New Haven, all recruits are assigned to group projects based in the community. They spend time in "laboratory" situations in various neighborhoods, working in teams on specific problems. Their assignments might find them placed in soup kitchens, homeless shelters, jails, or courthouses.

This type of experiential learning is being adopted increasingly by departments that are investing in community policing. In Richmond, Virginia, recruits work in the community as part of their academy training. They might, for example, conduct surveys among residents of public housing, asking them about their attitudes toward the police, and their satisfaction with police service; or they might work as aides in local elementary schools. [Conversation with Craig Fraser of the Police Executive Research Forum, February 6, 1995.]

Innovations in recruitment. When I was with the department in New York, we created a new method to recruit people who might not otherwise have applied. The Police Cadet Corps [established 1986] is an attempt to simultaneously accomplish several objectives:

Raise the educational level of the department;

Increase the representation of minorities and women;

Improve leadership skills;

Strengthen the orientation to community policing.

Basically, the department offers college sophomores financial support toward tuition in return for a service obligation. The Police Foundation, under NIJ sponsorship, evaluated the program in its early years [evaluated 1986, 1987, and 1988 cohorts] and judged it "an encouraging effort to invite college students to investigate the possibility of becoming a member of the police department." [ Pate and Hamilton, "The New York City Police Cadet Corps":66. ] The representation of African-American, Hispanic, and women entrants among the Cadets was found by the evaluators to be greater than among non-Cadet recruits. [ Pate and Hamilton, "The New York City Police Cadet Corps": 60, 65, 124, 125. ]

A key question is how many Cadets complete the program and go on to become police officer. Looking at figures from the class of 1986 (the first class) through 1992, some 830 people were hired as Cadets and of that number more than half (52.8%) were promoted to police officer. In the most recent class for which there are data, 65 percent of the Cadets became police officers [of 89 people, 58 became officers in 1992]. [ Conversation with Lieutenant Gomila of the New York City Police Department Police Cadet Corps, February 8, 1995. (Data for 1993 and 1994 are not yet available, since the Cadets have not yet completed the course.) ]

Similar outreach in other jurisdictions:

Richmond has a proactive system of attracting minorities into the force as well. At Virginia Union University, a historically Black college, scholarships are made available to juniors by the City. In return, the students are obligated to serve four years on the police force. [ Conversation with Craig Fraser, Police Executive Research Forum, February 6, 1995.]

In New Haven, the department's outreach extends to several groups that might not otherwise be attracted to police work: African-Americans, Hispanics, single parents, women, and lesbians and gays. [ Conversation with Craig Fraser, Police Executive Research Forum, February 6, 1995; and Bonafonte, "Informal Site Visitation."]

Linking education to promotion. As I noted, the PERF survey of police education showed that almost three-fourths of the departments still have no policies, either formal or informal, requiring college education for promotion. Here again, I am going to use New York as an example, because it is among the minority that do. New York has a policy linking promotion to educational achievement, and offers in-service training through a series of incentives. The officer receives credits that make him or her eligible for promotion.

The mandatory aspect of this policy underscores the importance New York assigns to higher education. You cannot be promoted to sergeant until you have two years of college; you cannot be promoted to lieutenant until you have three years; and to be a captain you need the full four years.

Executive development/leadership training. The public sector is beginning to think like the private sector in the sense of being customer-oriented, watching the bottom line, and being competitive. That is the approach taken at the Federal level in "reinventing government." In that respect, the management skills in the public sector are much like those required of a corporate CEO.

New York has recognized this and has responded by creating the Police Management Institute, which trains police executives in management skills. There's a conscious focus in this program on choosing people who have demonstrated management potential. They are pre-selected to participate, and the screening results in a fairly "elite" group of 15 per year, drawn from the deputy inspector level and above. The program is run in association with the Columbia University School of Business. Columbia is an institution whose relationship with the Department has been long and fruitful.

The IACP [International Association of Chiefs of Police] has been offering management training and self-help programs to police administrators and officers nationwide for the past ten years. "Operation Bootstrap" covers such subjects as effective supervision, conflict resolution, group problem-solving, and stress management. What is unique about this program is donations by corporations of places -- classroom seats -- in their executive education programs. Currently, more than a thousand departments have signed on for the program, and the only cost to the department is a nominal administration fee. [ Bruns, Bill, Operation Bootstrap: Opening Corporate Classrooms to Police Managers , Research in Action, Washington, D. C.: U. S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, August 1989; and conversation with Tony Occkiuzzo of the IACP's Operation Bootstrap, February 6, 1995. ]

Richmond requires training for all of its sergeants and lieutenants in corporate team-building. This training uses the experiential model, and presents problems that have to be solved through group decision making.

Alternative delivery systems. We can also broaden the student audience, and increase training efficiency, through alternative delivery systems that use state-of-the-art technology:

Distance learning (or distance education) -- this refers to the use of satellite transmission to permit simultaneous instruction to students geographically dispersed. Law enforcement is joining the growing number of organizations that routinely use satellites to deliver televised training and education. The FBI's Law Enforcement Satellite Training Network (LESTN), which may be the most well-known of these systems, offers training at the local and state levels, and the number of its downlink locations is increasing. [ "The Law Enforcement Satellite Training Network," unpublished paper, Quantico, VA? U. S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, n.d.] The California POST Commission has been a pioneer, transmitting "telecourses" not just within the state, but also outside the state. California has broadcast training videos at no cost and these programs can be taped and replayed.

These systems are not like the televised courses you may have taken in college, that allowed no class participation. They can function as truly interactive television, with teleconferencing made possible because the one-way video has a two-way audio system. [ California Commission on POST, Annual Report, 1990 :20; and Davis, Lester A., "Satellites Bring Training and Information to Law Enforcement Community," SatVision (May 1990:13.]

Interactive technology using video -- these systems allow for individualized instruction which, because it is self-paced, can shorten learning time. [ California Commission on POST, Annual Report, 1990 :14,21.] Simulator technology is interactive learning in which the student senses the reality of a street situation via computer, without having to experience it firsthand or without a costly reproduction. [ Haley, Keith N., "Training" in What Works in Policing: Operations and Administration Examined , ed. Gary W. Cordner and Donna C. Hale, Highland Heights, Ky.: Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, 1992:150.] Firearms Training System (FATS) is probably the simulation that comes to mind most readily. But simulator technology is not limited to motoric subject matter. It can also be used to learn the abstract skills required in decision making. [ Conversation with Craig Fraser of the Police Executive Research Forum, February 6, 1995.]

Accommodating officers' work schedules. All in-service training is arguably better structured if it can accommodate officers' work schedules. I use the Richmond, Virginia, police department again as an example. It has revamped its in-service training to create flexible class hours. The straight 40-hour training period is history, and instead officers take

"blocks" of course hours much as they would in college, and they attend class in the evenings and on weekends as well as during the day.

Using the Research Knowledge Base

The work of NIJ, and of the other organizations conducting research in criminal justice issues, adds to the body of knowledge in the field, and that body of knowledge can advance the profession and result in better policing. This knowledge is not limited just to research in police practice. It also extends to areas such as the understanding of criminal behavior, to "best practices" in the field, and to developments in fields allied to policing, such as prosecution and corrections.

One specific aspect of NIJ's work I might mention as an example is the Harvard Executive Session on Policing, developed by the Kennedy School of Government's Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management. NIJ helped to fund these sessions, which periodically brought together some of the leading figures in American policing -- police chiefs, mayors, scholars, and others -- to explore some of the most current issues in the field. NIJ published a series of papers-"think pieces"-on the basis of the sessions. These papers, and of course, all the research findings published by NIJ, are available to the public, and are sent out through the National Criminal Justice Reference Service. This is all part of the ongoing professional education of the field.

Looking Ahead

The Crime Act. The commitment at the federal level to higher education in policing was made evident in the Crime Act. What is in store in the Act will be related in detail later today. I will only note that the Act confirms the commitment by offering scholarships to young people who want to work as law enforcement officers and to people already in the profession. And in offering this assistance, it gives priority to racial and ethnic minorities.

Decision-making as a focus. Stephen Mastrofski, of Penn State, in an in-depth article on the changes in police patrol over the past decade, wrote that there is evidence of a shift in emphasis in recruit training, away from the highly technical and rule-bound aspects of police work. The shift has been toward decision-making, in the context of the moral, legal, and empirical "ambiguity" of street-level work. He adds, however, that the question of whether this shift has produced changes in practice remains largely unanswered. He sees the development of decision-making skills as the most critical training need, particularly for community policing. [ Mastrofski, "Prospects of Change in Police Patrol": 15, 17; and conversation with Stephen D. Mastrofski, February 2, 1995.]

For some of us, Professor Mastrofski's assessment might underscore even more strongly the need for higher education. For others, it might also suggest the need for taking several parallel routes to better policing.

The Challenge for the Policing Profession

We have come a long way from the commissions of nearly thirty years ago, when the issue was relatively simple -- whether it made sense to require a college degree of police officers. Unquestionably, that issue is now resolved, but requiring a college education does not begin to meet the larger educational challenge the policing profession faces -- how to prepare everyone in the department, from line officer to highest executive, to exercise an increasing degree of discretion in an increasingly complex world.

Nor does a focus on formal educational achievement alone begin to prepare a police department that is transforming itself to adopt a community policing philosophy. In these departments, police personnel are being challenged day to day and even hour to hour to take on greater responsibilities -- to engage in complex problem-solving, to interact with community organizations and other service providers in strategic ways -- in a word, to exercise a substantial amount of discretion. The transformation to community policing cannot be accomplished, I believe, without rethinking all the building blocks of education and training -- from the recruitment message that brings applicants to the front door, to the Academy, to tactical and supervisory training -- up to and including executive development for the next generation of police chiefs. [and even creating new building blocks?]

The challenge you are presenting at this Forum is not, I believe, properly understood as a challenge to the country's institutions of higher education. With all due respect, our colleges and universities cannot begin to meet this fundamental need to support the organizational transformation of a critical societal function in rapidly changing times. Instead, the challenge we should pose today is to the policing profession itself. The profession should address the question: What level of judgment, maturity, knowledge, and intellectual curiosity should we expect of our employees? Any profession that is trying to keep ahead of the curve in making changes, to modify its methods of service delivery, to encourage innovation, will also have enough trust in its employees to make a significant investment in their intellectual development. Fortunately for our nation, policing is such a profession, and the participants in this Forum are to be commended for helping us to visualize that future.

Thank you.