Calif. cops would have to be 25 or get bachelor's degree under new proposal

If passed, California would have the highest age requirement for peace officers in the country

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By Wes Venteicher
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO — Anyone who wants to be a police officer in California would have to get a bachelor's degree or turn 25 before starting their careers under a proposed new law.

Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, who planned to introduce the proposal Monday, said the change could help reduce the number of times police officers shoot or hurt people.

"These jobs are complex, they're difficult, and we should not just hand them over to people who haven't fully developed themselves," said Jones-Sawyer, who is chairman of the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Under current state law, peace officers have to be 18 years old and must have a high school diploma or the equivalent. California Highway Patrol officers have to be 20.

California law enforcement agencies seriously hurt or killed civilians 703 times in 2019, according to Department of Justice data. Officers shot guns in 283 of those instances, according to the data.

Jones-Sawyer points to a 2010 study that found college-educated police officers in two cities were less likely to use force in encounters with suspects.

[POLICING MATTERS PODCAST: Is a criminal justice degree worth it? The answer is yes.]

A broader review performed by the National Police Foundation, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C., also found college-educated officers use force less often and have fewer complaints against them than their non-college-educated peers.

Jones-Sawyer also cites research showing that the parts of the brain dedicated to impulse control, planning and working memory don't fully develop until about age 25. California incorporated those findings into law when it extended youth offender parole to age 25, he said.

He said that over time the change could be a major step toward reducing police violence.

"This could be the beginning of changing the entire way that policing is done on the front end," he said. "Then we can let the bad cops retire on the back end."

Police age and education requirements vary by state, with most setting the minimum age between 18 and 21. If California adopted Jones-Sawyer's proposal, it would have the highest age requirement in the country. Four states — Illinois, North Dakota, New Jersey and Nevada — each require a bachelor's degree or a supplemental combination of education and experience.

Jones-Sawyer's proposal, to be introduced on the first day of a new legislative session, faces a number of hurdles before it would become law, including votes in the Assembly and the Senate and the governor's approval.

The Peace Officers Research Association of California and the California Police Chiefs Association have supported less ambitious proposals to increase education requirements for officers.

NEXT: Fact-checking the need to reform education requirements for California cops

(c)2020 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

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