When Cops Go to College


In a very loose sense, American jobs are now divided into two types, those that require a college degree and those that don’t. Some people, after all, simply don’t need to go to college to do their jobs effectively. But what if a bachelor’s degree helps people do their jobs better. This appears to be the case with policemen.

According to an article by Melinda Burns in Miller-McCune:

Weighing in on a long-simmering dispute, a recent study for the Police Quarterly shows that officers with some college education are less likely to resort to force than those who never attend college.

The study found no difference with respect to officer education when it came to arrests or searches of suspects. But it found that in encounters with crime suspects, officers with some college education or a four-year degree resorted to using force 56 percent of the time, while officers with no college education used force 68 percent of the time.

It’s a little unclear what this really means (“resorted to using force” implies that it wasn’t necessary to use force, after all, but perhaps force was more effective) but this is apparently the first study that indicates a real difference in police officers who go to college. Before this, interested parties had only anecdotal evidence.

According to Michigan State criminal justice professor William Terrill, one of the study’s authors,

“High-school educated officers are more apt to say, ‘I’m the law and I have the authority to make you do it, and I’m going to put my hands on you and make you do it.’ Officers with a four-year degree are more skilled at resolving problems without having to resort to force. They’re giving the citizen alternative means of compliance. They’re not just relying on the stick.”

Currently only 1 percent of U.S. police departments require officers to have four-year college degrees. Only 8 percent of police departments, in fact, require college at all.

Read about the Police Quarterly study here. [Image via]

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer