How Much Do College Educations Improve Policing?


Iowa police departments have seen a dramatic increase in the number of officers with college degrees, a Des Moines Register survey shows. Eleven percent of Des Moines officers had bachelor’s degrees in 1983. Today it’s 38 percent – 141 of 370. The impact of a more-educated force is mostly anecdotal. Police officials said officers with college backgrounds are more adaptive and willing to learn. Some research shows, however, that the additional education has a marginal effect on an officer’s ability to do the job. “When officers’ performance in police-citizen encounters is measured in terms of citizens’ evaluations, little or no difference between college-educated and less-educated officers can be detected,” said Robert Worden of the University of Albany in New York.

Arlington, Tx., has one of the nation’s best-educated police departments. Bachelor’s degrees have been required of all recruits since the late 1980s. Detective Lewis Coggeshall said the area of study doesn’t matter. “We have officers with degrees in marketing, religion, speech communications, criminal justice, psychology, political science, habilitation of the deaf, hotel management, youth ministry, animal science,” he said. “Basically, it’s to ensure the officers are professional.” Louis Mayo of the Police Association for College Education at Mineral, Va., said studies show that complaints involving abuse of force are lower among college-educated officers. “Some municipal liability insurance companies give a reduction in premium rates if a city requires all officers to have bachelor’s degrees because they know from research their liability risk in those cities is less,” Mayo said. “Most confrontations are solved by a combination of brains and brawn, and the more brains involved, the less brawn is required.” College-educated officers, he said, “tend to have a better understanding of legal issues which restrict their authority.”


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