Police officers, community leaders, citizens – everyone wants a professional police force. For one, professional police forces counter the baseless rhetoric that police cannot be trusted. From my experience with over two decades in law enforcement, I have found that the vast majority of officers are ethical, honest and do their job every day to the best of their ability because they genuinely care about the community they serve.
The Benefits of a College-Educated Police Force
It is important, however, to implement new strategies in order to continue improving policing. One key way to make policing more professional is to hire more officers with college degrees. A college degree can provide officers with the knowledge they need on the job, such as a deeper understanding of constitutional law, trends in policing and crime control.
Earning a college degree reflects one’s ability to use analytical, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills because they can have a positive impact on reducing use of force by officers.
For example, officers with a college education receive fewer citizen complaints, are terminated less often for misconduct and are almost 40% less likely to engage in the use of force, according to a study of officer-involved shootings. Officers with two-year degrees had a lower rate of being assaulted by the public.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that research also found officers were nearly 30% less likely to fire their firearms than non-college educated officers. This may reflect their ability to de-escalate situations with the public due to the critical thinking skills they developed while earning their degree.
Other research has shown that a college education strengthens ethical decision making, an openness to diversity and better communication skills. Providing educational financial incentives for law enforcement applicants will increase the likelihood of a college-educated police force.
Requiring a college education for officers seeking to prepare for work in upper-level management can also be a way to grow a college-educated workforce. The International Association of Chiefs of Police has called for “increased educational standards.”
The United Kingdom has taken a proactive approach to increasing education within its police ranks. Britain requires all new officers in England and Wales to have a college degree.
According to the BBC, new police candidates must have a college degree or be engaged in a three-year police constable apprenticeship to earn their education, which is funded by the police force. This program is referred to as “earn while you learn” and allows officers to spend 80% of their time working and the remaining 20% earning their degree, all while also earning a police salary, the BBC said. This may a great program for police departments in the United States to adopt.
Weight Management in Policing
In addition to having a college-educated workforce, it’s also very important to have a physically fit police force. According to the National Police Support Fund, studies have found that law enforcement officers live on average 15 fewer years than the general population. The average age of an officer who suffers a heart attack is 49 as opposed to the average 67 years in the general population.
Weight management and an active agency-supported health regimen is imperative in combating the health issues associated with police forces. This can be accomplished during agency block training by incorporating nutrition, diet, and exercise education. Also effective are agency incentives for officers who follow an approved nutrition plan and exercise regimen.
Increasing Professionalism through Training
As society and policing in general change with time, it is critical to provide officers with the knowledge they need to effectively serve the community. Along with college-educated hires, effective communication, handling calls for service through critical thinking skills, and de-escalation training will increase professionalism in police forces, which is so important to gain public trust.