LEOs weigh in: Should a bachelor's degree be the minimum education requirement for a cop?

Recently, we asked our readers to weigh in on a proposal that would require California cops to have a bachelor's degree


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A recent proposal in California would require police officers to either have a bachelor’s degree or be at least 25 years old to join the force.

"These jobs are complex, they're difficult, and we should not just hand them over to people who haven't fully developed themselves," Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer told The Sacramento Bee.

Jones-Sawyer pointed to research that showed certain parts of the brain dedicated to functions such as impulse control don’t fully develop until a person turns 25.

Recently, we asked our readers to weigh in on the bachelor’s degree requirement. Here are the results:

 

As you can see, the majority of our readers (81 percent) do not believe cops should have to have a bachelor’s degree.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Some of our readers, while disagreeing with a bachelor’s degree requirement, also argued that college courses can be of great value to officers.

“I agree with some of the comments regarding a bachelor's degree doesn't make an officer,” Manuel Espinoza said. “With the academy and a good field training program a degree should not matter. However, some education requirements would be very useful such as English, Grammar and Writing courses. Unfortunately, even the best police academies don't have time to teach an officer to write a good report.”

“It’s imperative for officers to take certain college courses in order to have a better understanding and knowledge of how to interact with different cultures, ethnicities, and languages,” Anderson Felt added. “Sociology, psychology and critical thinking are very vital. Never too old to learn!”

Some readers said that life experiences and common sense matter more than a college diploma in terms of being effective on the job – preferring a “street wise” cop over a cop with a degree.

“Maturity and life experience do far more to make a peace officer better than sitting in a classroom being told how a professor thinks things should be rather than what they are,” Bert Dillow wrote.

“Work in bars, retail, volunteer medical or search and rescue – whatever is available that allows you learn social skills, problem solving and how to treat people and exposes you to as many personalities as possible,” Karl Burton said. “I've trained great people straight out of school and great people with master’s degrees. In my experience their life experiences and how they viewed and learned from interactions made them good at their role.”

“A bachelor degree won’t stop you from using excessive force and being involved in activities unbecoming of an officer – that’s character,” Michael Harris said. “A good police academy, an experienced field training officer and a passion to serve and help people should be the minimum requirement!”

Todd Wagner argued the focus should be on increasing training once officers are on the job.

“I do agree that maturity plays a big part but age alone does not indicate a person's maturity level,” Wagner wrote. “Also, if leaders place more time and effort investing in background investigations they can find those whom they are seeking. And if the community leaders want quality, then they need to stand up and commit to investing in training for all law enforcement officers. Maintaining the minimum training will just get you what you currently have. Budget cuts and defunding training only leads to poor policing. You get what you invest in.”

Other readers wrote that if the bachelor’s requirement is indeed implemented, pay compensation should also be adjusted.

“I don't necessarily believe it's a bad idea, but if you're going to make the requirement for a bachelor’s degree, then the compensation should also be raised,” Keith Holmes said. “The amount of time and effort put into obtaining a bachelor’s degree should reap a benefit. It does in other professions, so why not this one?”

“You can’t really expect someone to have a bachelor’s degree and go through an academy to only be paid $40,000 a year,” Cole Douglas wrote. “LE agencies already have a hard enough time getting quality people. You require them to have more education without compensating with higher pay and you’ll cut those quality people in half.”

Many readers also raised concerns about increasing minimum requirements in an era where one of the biggest issues in law enforcement is recruitment difficulties.

“The profession currently does not have enough candidates to fill the jobs,” Jeff Williamson wrote. “So what would happen if you make that pool smaller by requiring a degree?”

What do you think? Email us at editor@police1.com. For more on this issue, check out Police1 columnists Jim Dudley and Joel Shults’ expert analysis on the issue here.

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