College or High School Educated Police?
Since the early part of the twentieth century, academicians and criminal justice practitioners have debated whether police officers should be required to have a college education as a minimum qualification to be hired. Today, there is general agreement that a college education will not necessarily make a person a good police officer, but a good police officer can be made better by having one. Many police executives believe formal college education can improve critical thinking skills of officers and that is becoming a more important factor as the complexity of police work continues to increase.1 According to a recent article in Police Chief Magazine “We expect (police officers) to understand and apply the law evenly. We expect them to grasp the nature of social problems and the psychology of people with different attitudes toward the law. We expect officers to professionally and effectively handle disputes involving people from varying cultural, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.”2 The importance of possessing a college degree by police officers seems to have substantial support in the literature. If the need or desire is established for the possession of a college degree by police officers, then how do they get one? Traditionally, a college program involved students attending classes at a “brick and mortar” campus. This was difficult for many officers that already had substantial work and family commitments. With the advent of online (internet delivered) college programs, it is possible for officers to enter or return to college and pursue a degree where previously it may not have been practical for them to do so. With that being said, does an online program sufficiently address the desirable attributes for police officers that the possession of a college degree represents?
Historical Perspective for College Educated Police
In 1916, August Vollmer, the former Chief of Police of Berkeley, California, was the first to emphasize the need for police officers to have college degrees. At about the same time, the University of California at Berkeley began to offer law enforcement related courses.3 In 1931, The National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement (the Wickersham Commission) gave “national recognition for higher educational standards and more professional police officers.”4 Although the issue of college education for police officers was not specifically addressed, it laid the foundation for subsequent calls to increase educational levels for police. Largely due to Vollmer’s influence, the University of California at Berkeley created a School of Police Administration in 1933, followed shortly thereafter by a similar school at Michigan State University.5 In 1936, Vollmer wrote in his book, The Police in Modern Society, that police officers should be required to have a college education.6 In 1967, the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice made specific recommendations regarding increasing the level of police education.7 This report was followed by the passage of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, which established the Law Enforcement Education Program (LEEP). LEEP, in part, provided grants and loans to officers to enroll in college and earn their degrees. This infusion of money created a large incentive for institutions to develop academic programs geared toward law enforcement. As police officers began to return to or enter college, some institutions created accelerated or nontraditional programs in criminal justice. Officers could receive credit for experience in related courses and some courses were configured so officers did not have to meet as often as traditional courses. These types of programs were usually administered through the college’s extension program. Today, many public and...