Reflections from the One-Percent of Local Police Departments with Mandatory Four-Year Degree Requirements For New Hires: Are They Diamonds in the Rough? Diana Bruns Bacone College ***Contact information Diana Bruns, Ph. D. Department Chairperson and Professor, Criminal Justice Studies Bacone College 2299 Old Bacone Road Muskogee, OK 74403 brunsd@bacone. edu cell: 918-781-7295 office: 918-781-7295 **Diana Bruns is the Department Chairperson and Professor of Criminal Justice Studies at Bacone College in Muskogee, OK.
Reflections from the One-Percent of Local Police Departments with Mandatory Four-Year Degree Requirements For New Hires: Are They Diamonds in the Rough? Abstract Countless studies have permeated the literature regarding the utility of a bachelor’s degree for police officers. Local law enforcement agencies with mandatory four-year degree requirements serve as the population for this study relative to the current status of college degreed officers, as well as population demographics and commonalities among such departments.
The utility of college degree requirements, choice of academic discipline and why four-year degree requirements nationwide are merely a preference, not a standard mandatory hiring requirement is discussed. Current minimum educational requirements for local and state police agencies and implications for the future of the college-degreed officers are explored. Hiring college-educated candidates in the law enforcement field does not guarantee they will be good officers.
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Being a police officer is hard and to be successful, you have to want to be a police officer. Individuals who receive the required degree in law enforcement have demonstrated their desire. Desire is something very hard to evaluate, but such an important trait. If all other qualities are equal—the college graduate with a four-year degree in criminal justice or related field should be hired as police officers before one who doesn’t have the degree. Police Chief from department with mandatory degree requirement Introduction and Background The relevance of a college degree for police officers has been debated for decades. Numerous studies have been conducted regarding the importance of the degreed officer, while others have described how a college degree is not an essential or important ingredient for success among police officers. That precise debate—the worth of the bachelor’s degree for police officers is not the focus of this endeavor.
The focus here is central to three vital panels’ recommendations from 1967-1974 proclaiming that police officers obtain baccalaureate degree—the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals, and the American Bar Association Project on Standards for Criminal Justice—and why so few local and state police departments have followed suit in requiring that police officers hold baccalaureate degrees, as less than 1% of such departments require a four-year degree (Hickman and Reeves, 2006).
It is evident that leaders in law enforcement are hesitant to embrace the educational movement. Roberg and Bonn (2004) reiterated the nearly nonexistent numbers of police departments requiring degrees. Although leaders in law enforcement continue to hesitate the implementation of educational requirements (Carlan, 2007; Roberg and Bonn, 2004; Breci, 1997;Remington, 1990), recruitment for college graduates continues to increase. Carlan (2007) examined the worth of the criminal justice degree as valued by police officers and found that In this study, police officers (n=299) with varying levels of experience and riminal justice education revealed positive attitudes concerning the degree’s value with regard to conceptual development for employment purposes.
The positive assertions in this study reflect well on the ability of criminal justice programs to prepare its clientele for meaningful employment challenges (p. 616). Johnston, Cheurprakobkit, and McKenzie (2002) revealed that law enforcement administrators stressed that the role of education should place importance in aiding police officers with knowledge of the legal aspects of policing as well as report writing, ethics, and procedures.
The President’s Commission (1967) reported that without higher educational requirements, quality in police services could not be achieved or attained. However, over forty years later, in 2009, although most police agencies do report that they prefer a college-degreed officer, the majority of police agencies (local, state and special jurisdiction) do not require anything more than a high school diploma or equivalent. Upon reviewing 36 departments that require a four-year degree, this exploratory analysis attempts to reveal and explore the reasoning behind the small number of police departments actually requiring the degree.
Results of this analysis will describe the departments with four-year mandatory degree requirements and characteristics of such departments will include opinions of police chiefs regarding why a college degree is important to police. Qualitative explanations will yield information regarding how explemplary practices of a few departments should serve as role models and guides for departments across the nation in the one-hundred year quest to professionalize the policing field. As the literature suggests, police administrators do prefer police officers to hold a baccalaureate degree, but do not require it.
Verrill (2007) called for the need to determine why the select one-percent of local police departments who require the degree actually do so. This study attempts to answer that question. As stated previously, debates pertaining to the usefulness and value of a college degree for police officers have been commonplace in criminal justice literature for decades. However, at the outset, it is unclear how many police departments actually require a four-year degree and the location of such departments. This lack of clarity is further exemplified by ncertainty as to how many police officers and police agencies there actually are the in U. S. , leads to difficulty in counting police agencies (Maguire, Snipes, Uchida, and Townsend, 1998). Whatever the case, we can be assured that few police agencies (non-federal) actually require a bachelor’s degree. Is the Type of Degree Important? Verrill (2007) described the sparse amount of literature concerning the advantage or worth of a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and whether criminal justice employers give preferentiality to vocational over theoretical degrees or vice versa.
Verrill’s study reviewed entry-level educational requirements for criminal justice agencies in Florida, where only two local police departments out of N=261 sampled required a bachelor’s degree. Realistically, Verrill’s sample is indicative of local police departments nationwide, as less than one-percent require a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite for employment. It is unclear at this point, from the literature, whether those one-percent of police departments who require four-year degrees specify which discipline they prefer.
This analysis reveals striking information regarding the few police departments that require the degree and their preferences regarding the discipline as well as if they prefer that police candidates have degrees pertaining to either vocational or theoretical orientations. Bostrom (2005) addressed differences in levels of performance and work habits among officers who had obtained Bachelor of Arts degrees and Bachelor of Science degrees, finding that officers with Bachelor of Arts degrees have better work habits (measured by sick time usage, traffic collisions, discipline) than officers with a Bachelor of Science degree.
Although results were detailed with caution, as this was an exploratory study at one large police department, Bostrom called for future research in this area. Schafer and Castellano (2005) attempted to extricate the relationships that subsist among work experience, educational background and attitudes toward criminal justice education, once again finding, “the quality of police service will not significantly improve until higher educational requirements are established for its personnel” (p. 300). Research Questions 1. What is currently known about educational requirements for local and state police departments/agencies?
How many police departments (local) have a four-year degree requirement and where are those departments? Who makes up the one-percent of police departments that the literature refers to as requiring four-year degrees? What is the range in size of police departments that have the four-year degree requirement? Are they large departments or small departments? How many departments that have the four-year degree requirement will waive the requirement, and under what conditions can the educational requirement be waived? What are the education levels of chiefs of police in departments that have a four-year degree requirement? .
What are the mean starting salaries for the departments that require a four-year degree? Are the starting salaries for police officers in police departments with four-year degree requirements higher than salaries for police officers in departments without four-year degree requirements? Do police chiefs in departments with four-year degree requirements prefer that officers have a degree in criminal justice? Do police chiefs in departments with four-year degree requirements have a preference of vocational (hands-on) orientation rather than an academic (theoretical) orientation? . Have applicant pools increased, decreased or stayed the same since their four-year degree requirement was mandated? Do the police chiefs believe the degree requirement will change in time, or will it remain a mandate, with no exceptions? Regarding police departments with the four-year degree requirement, why does their respective department require a four-year degree? Regarding police departments with the four-year degree requirement, why do police chiefs believe so few departments across the nation actually require the degree?
Current Knowledge About Educational Requirements for US Police Departments According to the U. S. Department of Justice (2004), there are 12,766 local police departments with 3,067 sheriff’s offices, 49 primary state law enforcement agencies, 1,481 special jurisdiction agencies, and 513 ‘other’ agencies totally 17,876 law enforcement agencies. As of 2003, in a sample of 3000 police departments, 98% of local police departments had an educational requirement for new recruits; 18% had ‘some type’ of college requirement; ine percent required a two-year degree and less than one-percent required a four-year degree (Hickman and Reaves, 2006). Another source, The International Association for Chiefs of Police (2008) announced that 16% of state police agencies require a two-year degree, while four-percent require a four-year degree; 13% of county police agencies require a two-year degree and an unknown percentage of county police agencies require a four-year degree. Nine percent of local police departments require a two-year degree and two-percent require a four-year degree.
However, it was unclear the name and location of the departments that required a two or a four-year degree. Furthermore, it is unclear as to where that two-percent was derived. Overall, scarce information is available regarding which departments require a two or a four-year degree. By searching state police agency and state highway patrol websites, it is evident that only three state police departments require officers to hold four-year degrees—Illinois State Police, New Jersey State Police, and North Dakota Highway Patrol. All three agencies, however, will waive educational requirements.
Regarding the New Jersey State Police’s minimum qualifications, An applicant must have (1) a bachelor’s degree, signifying completion of the undergraduate curriculum and graduation from an accredited college or university or, (2) alternatively, an associate’s degree or have complete 60 college credits from an accredited college or university, plus at least two years of satisfactory employment, or (3) alternately, have completed 30 college credits from an accredited college or university, plus at least two years of active duty military service with an honorable discharge (http://www. jsp. org/recruit/qual. html). The Illinois State Police has the following minimum educational requirement:
- Option 1). An Associate of Arts Degree or equivalent coursework and must meet one of the following two job experience requirements: Three consecutive years of continuous, full-time service as a police officer, with the same police agency or three consecutive years of active military duty.
- Option 2). An Associate Degree of Science or equivalent coursework and meet one of the following two job experience requirements: three onsecutive years of continuous, full-time service, as a police officer, with the same agency or three consecutive years of active military duty.
- Option 3). An Associate of Applied Science Degree, only if the degree is in Law Enforcement/Criminal Justice and meet one of the following two job experience requirements: Three consecutive years of continuous, full-time service as a police officer, with the same agency, or three consecutive years of active military duty.
- Option 4). A Bachelor’s Degree (https://www. illinoisstatetrooper. om/requiremnents. html). Lastly, North Dakota Highway Patrol’s minimum educational requirements are: An Associate degree with two years of work-related experience or a Bachelor’s degree (http://nd. gov/ndhp/employment/qualifications. html).
However, one state-- Nevada, stipulates no educational requirement. Out of the 100 largest cities in the United States, only four police departments require a four-year degree (Jacksonville, FL, Arlington, TX. , St. Paul, MN, and Tulsa, OK). Upon looking at the 100 largest police departments in the United States by number of sworn officers (list provided by the Police Executive Research Forum), only 3 of the largest police departments require a four-year degree (New Jersey State Police, Illinois State Police, and Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office).
After reviewing each of the 100 largest cities websites, it was determined that 67% of such departments require a police officers to have a high school diploma or equivalent; 6% require a high school diploma plus 12 hours college credit; 4% require between 30-40 hours of college credit, 19% require an Associate’s degree or 60 hours of college credit, with 4% requiring a four-year degree.
Again after searching agency websites regarding career opportunities, the percentages were similar upon reviewing the largest 100 departments by number of sworn officers: 68% required a high school diploma or equivalent; 4% required a high school diploma or equivalent plus 12 hours of college credit; 4% required between 30-54 hours of college credits; 21% required an Associate’s degree of 60 hours of college credit, and 3% of the 100 largest police departments (by number of sworn officers) currently require a four-year degree.
Once again, even the few that require the degree; the majority will waive the requirement, with certain stipulation—which will be discussed. To estimate whether or not the one-percent of police departments with degree requirements were actually large or small departments necessitated reviewing the LEMAS report (2003), concluding that Seventy-four percent (74%) of all local police departments served fewer than 10,000 residents, these agencies employed just 14% of all offices. About half of all officers served a jurisdiction with 100,000 or more residents.
While departments serving the largest cities had thousands of officers on average, those serving fewer than 2,500 residents have an average of just four full-time employees, including three sworn officers. The Arguments: Pros and Cons of the College-Educated Police Officer The idea surrounding the purpose of college-educated officers has stemmed from two sources: the alleged importance of professionalism for the police force and to change officer attitudes (Shernock, 1992). Friedmann (2006) made an excellent point,
When police officers try to do their job today without a degree, their already difficult task is made more difficult. However, chiefs who mandate the degree requirement should be aware that the transition period—where the police department does not already have a clear majority of officers with degrees—could be difficult. Police officers sometimes resist higher education requirements. Despite this resistance, police officers need higher education for the good of the profession” (p. 23). Chief of Police Hawkins (2006) reiterated his department’s four-year requirement in Burnsville, MN. ,
Burnsville’s four-year degree requirement helps recruit big-picture thinkers who are creative, culturally aware, and technically sound in constitutional law, and who look for the best solution to the multitudes of challenges they encounter. An officer’s well-rounded background enhances his or her ability and desire to partner with community members, use the vast resources both the residents and business owners possess, and make them part of the problem-solving process. The synergy created between the community and the officers is the basis foundation of Burnsville’s community policing efforts. Friedman, 2006, p. 28). As the debate over the need for an educated police officers has demonstrated contradictory evidence concerning college educated police officers—meaning that although many studies are supportive that officers need a college education, there is also conflicting evidence. Baro and Burlingame (1999) disputed recommendations that officers need a baccalaureate degree to increase levels of police professionalism, stating that officers need no more than a high school diploma or equivalency.
Sherman and McLeod (1979) speculated that higher education for officers may be irrelevant because the education officers receive in higher educational institutions is quite similar to training officers receive in police academies. Critics of higher educations believe the “college-educated officers are more likely to become frustrated with their work, with restrictions imposed by supervisors, and with limited opportunities for advancement” (Worden, 1990, p. 567). Hudzick (1978) found that officers with an education place less value on obedience to supervisors and are less satisfied with their careers.
Other are concerned that “college-educated officers will quickly tire of the irregular hours, constant pressures, and relative low pay of policing” (Varricchio, 1988, p. 11). Whetstone (2000) acknowledged that, “hiring candidates with improved credentials also invites eventual problems such as greater job dissatisfaction and personnel turnover” (p. 247). Kakar (1998) further demonstrated that a college education might decrease officer’s quality of service because police work does not offer opportunities to stimulate the college-educated mind.
Furthermore, because police performance measures differ in studies, no real consensus exists on exactly how police performance should be defined and measured. Carter and Sapp (1990) indicated that regardless of degree requirements, 23% of police officers had obtained a four-year degree and 65% of police officers had at least one year of college. Peterson (2001) gave somewhat higher estimates, in that 30% of police officers sampled from ten medium-sized departments in the Midwest had four-year degrees.
Mayo (2006) estimates between 25-30% of police officers have a four-year degree, which realistically nearly mirrors the percentage of U. S. population over age 25 who have obtained a bachelor’s degree. According to the US Census Bureau (2005) 28% of the US population over the age of 25 has obtained a bachelor’s degree, which is an all-time high. Common sense dictates that those percentages of police officers with four-year degrees are representative of the education levels of the communities they serve, if we utilize such figures and that line of reasoning.
However, the small number of departments requiring degrees necessitates attention to raise awareness to the fact that less than 100 police departments, including special jurisdiction police, state police, county and local police departments mandate degrees, and whether this will change in the future. Little information exists regarding the 1% of police departments that require the four-year degree. Mayo (2006) revealed several case studies of departments with four-year degrees regarding the question of the degree and its importance to the sites’ organizational success in the communities they serve.
One of the departments that was highlighted, the Dover Police Department in N. J. , which is now the Toms River Police Department, has changed its language to relax its mandatory four-year requirement, the current ordinance: requires candidates to possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university or, the candidate must possess a minimum of 64 college credits combined with two (2) full years of military experience or full time work experience (http://www. rpolice. org/Recruitment. html). Other than a list of departments that require four-year degrees recently made available on-line by the Police Association for College Education, no other list is available to reveal the one-percent of police agencies that require the four-year degree. Unfortunately, many of the departments listed on that site that have a four-year degree requirement no longer have the requirement, but have relaxed it or waived it all together.
Nestel (2009) offered his opinion, via email, as to why the degree requirements was relaxed at his department, The applicant pool that is suited for this position frequently does not possess the educational pedigree you describe (a four-year degree). Law enforcement tends to draw military veterans and sons/daughters of existing officers. Neither group has a high rate of college graduates. Recruiting on college campuses has proven to be very unsuccessful. Policing doesn’t seem to be an appealing direction for the college graduate.
In recent years, other departments (Memphis, TN, Plano, TX, Portland, OR) once known to have had a four-year degree requirement, further made national headlines regarding the choice to relax their respective educational requirement. Interestingly, many other police departments were found that were not included in the Police Association for College Education’s (PACE) list regarding police departments that require four-year degrees as of 2006. A massive Internet search was undertaken to locate local police departments that currently require a four-year degree for new patrol officers.
Additionally, numerous contacts via telephone to police chiefs and recruits were attempted to uncover additional police departments with four-year degree requirements. However, most of those attempts were unsuccessful for little knowledge exists as to whom the police departments requiring four-year degrees actually were in the U. S. Therefore, it was necessary to rely on departmental websites in attempts to discover who indeed mandated the baccalaureate degree requirement. Problematically, many departmental websites lacked clarity regarding educational requirements.
Therefore, if relevant information could not be obtained via websites, many telephone contacts to police departments led to the discovery of 60 local police departments, including local police departments and county sheriff offices that require a four-year degree for police officers. However, there are several special jurisdiction police agencies that also require officers to hold a baccalaureate degree and will not waive educational requirements, including the Missouri Department of Conservation (law enforcement) and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
However, special jurisdiction police agency degree requirements are not the focus of this analysis. Sixty police agencies (local and county) were unearthed to indeed have the requirement--Illinois has the greatest number of police departments requiring a four-year degree, with eleven; New Jersey has seven; Ohio has eight; Pennsylvania has six; Michigan has 5; Texas has four; Wisconsin has 4; Colorado has 3; South Carolina has 2; Florida has 2; Minnesota has 2; Oregon, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Missouri each have one local police department that has a four-year degree requirement.
Special jurisdiction police agencies aside, caution however, that of those 60 police departments, only 37 will not waive or relax their educational requirements for any exception. Therefore, there are 37 local police departments that will not waive their educational requirements on any grounds. Table 1 contains the 37 local departments that will not waive educational requirements. Population size, gathered from Sperling’s Best Places (www. bestplaces. net) follow to demonstrate the size of each city in which the respective department is located.
Regarding county police departments, population size was not included. Table 1 Note: N=37. This may not be the complete list. However, no other such list is available. Simple computations reveal the Mean for the population size of local police departments with mandatory degree requirements is (X=61,911), with the Median (MD=31,891). Due to the reality that there are so few local police departments mandating degrees, it is relevant to include examples of specific educational requirements for such departments regarding their policy regarding mandatory four-year degree education requirements in Table 2.
Plano Police Department TX Richland County Sheriff’s Office SC River Forest Police Department IL Shaler Police Department PA St. Paul Police Department MN Tinley Park Police Department IL Toms River Police Department NJ (Formerly Dover PD) Vernon Hills Police Department IL Willowbrook Police Department IL Note. N=23. Methodology Regarding the 1% of local police departments that require a four-year degree at the time of hire, it was noted previously that little information exists about the location of such departments.
Intensive Internet searches, email and telephone contacts with multitudes of police recruiters and chiefs yielded 60 departments with four-year degree requirements, although only 37 of such departments had mandatory educational requirements resulting in no educational waivers. As it was unclear which department had mandatory requirements at the outset, 45 questionnaires were mailed to police chiefs at departments, which were believed to have mandatory requirements.
Of those 45 questionnaires mailed, 40 were completed and returned--which was an excellent overall response rate of nearly 89%. Four of those surveys revealed that the departments surveyed did not require the four-year degree requirement; therefore, the results were not utilized. Thirty-six (36) returned questionnaires remained, revealing both important and relevant information about departments with mandatory requirements and were the subjects for this study. Thirty-seven (37) departments overall were found with mandatory requirements.
Items on the questionnaires pertained to a wide range of subjects including the year in which such departments implemented their degree requirement; number of sworn officers; the chief’s education level; mean starting salaries for police officers; whether or not police chiefs had a preference in degree discipline; whether the chiefs preferred their officers had degrees that were vocational or theoretical in nature; whether chiefs preferred bachelor or arts degrees over bachelor of science degree; if officers who were hired before the degree requirement was established were required to complete respective degrees; whether they believed the degree requirement would be altered in the future; if applicant pool had increased, decreased or remained the same since the establishment of the degree requirement; the requirement’s impact on minority recruiting, and whether police chiefs believed officers with a college degree perform better than officers without a college degree.
Additionally, two questions qualitatively regarding why police chiefs believed their respective departments had the mandatory requirement and why police chiefs believe only 1% of other departments have followed suit in mandating the requirement. Although glaring limitations to this analysis stem from the fact the little information exists regarding the reality of those one-percent of police departments that mandate a four-year degree, this is an exploratory step enabling further exploration into this important issue. Ultimately, the future professionalism of the policing field does hinge on raising degree requirements across police departments in America. Although only 36 police chiefs were surveyed, their information speaks volumes as to the need for other departments to follow their lead.
As one chief eloquently stated: It is evident that society has become more complex. Problem solving skills along with communication skills are even more important today for police officers. A college education gives a foundation and more importantly legitimizes police work as a profession The instrument utilized has not proven reliable. However, this began a process of raising issues regarding the importance and the future of the college-degreed officer. At the outset, many officers are obtaining four-year degrees regardless of whether the degree is required or not. Results Information regarding the analysis of data is organized according to the research questions.
Governments are reluctant to pay the higher wages for an applicant with a degree. Most agencies cannot pay adequate salaries for advanced degrees. Higher degreed people are not satisfied being a police officer. Money. Most departments cannot afford to start our a patrol officer at what a college graduate could make It certainly can hurt the applicant pool, depending on the salary Possibly they believe their pay-rates are not high enough to attract college graduates. Lack of pay for many smaller agencies The degree requirement decreases applicant pools. Although some did not agree, the majority of police chiefs surveyed stated their department’s mandatory degree equirement has reduced applicant pools. It reduces the pool of potential applicants at a time when suitable applicants are hard to find. There remains a high percentage of law enforcement executives and government officials who believe a four-year degree is not a necessity in preparing an individual for a law enforcement career. Because of the difficulty in finding a sufficient number of qualified candidates Reduction in applicant pool is significant The chiefs in this studied strongly valued education, however education overall is under-valued in policing. Most chiefs say they value education, but stop short of making it a requirement. Education is under-valued in policing.
The four-year degree requirement make recruiting tougher and it creates challenges for retaining personnel. ” I still believe that the majority of police leaders are, as a law-enforcement culture, anti-education for police officers Police leaders who have not attained a college degree may not find one necessary. Therefore, this presents itself as a great challenge, one of increasing overall education standards. Administrators may not believe a college degree is necessary, especially if they have not earned one
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