Last year, Plano, Tx., began requiring police recruits to have 4-year college degrees at a time when police departments are desperate for new officers, says USA Today. The move was aimed at making the city’s 345-member police force more like the residents of Plano, a city of 260,000 about 18 miles north of Dallas. Plano is in one of the nation’s wealthiest counties and is home to various corporate headquarters. Plano officials cited studies indicating that officers with college degrees have fewer discipline problems than those without. In August, as Plano strained to find enough recruits, the city eased its requirements and began accepting those with two years of college or three years in the military. Since 1963, when the Multnomah County, Or., Sheriff’s Department became one of the first police agencies to impose a four-year degree requirement on recruits, only a few other local departments have followed.
Fewer than 5 percent of local police departments with more than 100 officers require four-year degrees, says Louis Mayo of the Police Association for College Education. Most departments give higher pay to recruits with four-year degrees, but have avoided requiring recruits to have them. The median annual salary for patrol officers nationwide was about $45,200 in 2004. There are about 700,000 state and local police officers across the nation. Mayo estimates that up to 30 percent have four-year degrees. In a series of essays in The Police Chief magazine, 13 police officials and academics recently urged departments to raise education standards – and to not be deterred by concerns they make it too difficult to fill the ranks.