Will Discouraging College For Cops Promote Heavy-Handed Policing?


New Orleans’s decision no longer requiring police recruits to have some college education fuels the debate on whether advanced schooling makes better cops, the Wall Street Journal reports. The move, after a similar change last year in Asheville, N.C., comes when police behavior and training are under heightened scrutiny after high-profile police shootings of unarmed civilians. In New Orleans for four years, aspiring officers have needed 60 hours of college credit or comparable military service. On Monday, new police Superintendent Michael Harrison persuaded the civil service commission to drop the requirement as he seeks to expand police ranks to 1,600 officers from 1,150. Harrison, who got undergraduate and graduate degrees only after becoming an officer, said the rule was needlessly barring qualified candidates. The city turned away 1,000 applicants in 2014 because of the hurdle.

“I personally believe that education is a win and a plus for everybody,” said Harrison, a 23-year cop. “But it does not mean that a person cannot be a great police officer because they don't possess a certain amount of college education.” Critics of lowering requirements cite studies showing that officers with a college education are less likely to use physical force with suspects. “There's a growing dissatisfaction that the police are heavy-handed and that their coercive tactics are going overboard,” said criminologist William Terrill of Michigan State University. “If we have some evidence that more education leads to less force, then I don't know why communities would be apt to go away from that.” Just 1 percent of police agencies require four-year degrees, 9 percent require two-year degrees and 6 percent require some college, says a 2007 survey by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

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