No Degree Required
Policing is one of a few “professions” that does not require a college education. A Baltimore city first-grade teacher making $35,000 a year must have a four-year degree and state certification. A Baltimore city police officer earning a $61,000 salary needs only a high school diploma, a clean driving record, and about six months in the police academy. The police officer, unlike the teacher, is empowered to use deadly force. Only one percent of police departments require a four-year college degree. Studies prove that high-school educated officers are more likely to assume that they are the law with the power to enforce their will. Officers with four-year degrees are more skilled at resolving problems without having to resort to force. Instead, they often give citizens alternative means of compliance instead of simply relying on physical means.
Becoming a police officer in Minnesota falls into the one percent. Minnesota police officers must be 21 years of age and have completed the necessary requirements (background checks etc.) Minnesota is one of two US states to require at least an associate degree for all law enforcement officers. Applicants to their Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) must obtain a 2- or 4-year degree at an approved criminal justice or law enforcement degree.
Degree = Better Salary
The minimum requirements of a particular police department should not influence your decision to earn a degree. Instead, you should consider the advantages of a degree. For example, the city of Los Angeles has a police force of over 10,000 officers and almost 3,000 civilian employees. Education requirements state that all candidates must be a US high school graduate OR hold a GED or a California High School Proficiency Examination (CHSPE) certificate. If you skip the degree, you will also be missing a higher salary in LA. LAPD’s annual salary of a new recruit can vary depending on education and experience. Many new recruits with bachelor’s or master’s degrees will start out at a higher salary. However, with annual pay raises as well as multiple opportunities for promotion, the salary can increase rapidly over the years. Currently, the average pay of a Los Angeles Patrol Officer is $103,730 (May 2017 US Bureau of Labor Statistics).
The most popular degree among law enforcement personnel is an Associate’s degree. Statistics show that about 88% of officers have a two-year degree. In a 2015 study conducted by the University of Michigan reported that out of 2,109 officers surveyed, 45% had a bachelor’s degree. Half of the officers had majored in criminal justice; the rest had degrees in disciplines ranging from psychology to business. This study opined that officers with experience in psychology, sociology and other college-taught disciplines might be more adept at addressing these issues.
Many officers delay their degree until after they have a job. Another survey concluded that 48 percent identified career advancement as the main reason for higher education. Some police agencies provide tuition reimbursement or assistance, making the cost of a degree more affordable. According to this analysis and available literature, it appears that police officers view a college education as a luxury worth pursuing. It becomes a necessity if your ambitions are to be in a leadership role in law enforcement.
Job postings for a Deputy of Police or Police Chief at the city level require a Bachelors or Masters Degree in Criminal Justice or related field. A Chief requires graduation from an accredited college or university with major coursework in law enforcement, public administration, or related field with a preference for a master’s degree in one of the fields. Of course, years of police experience is mandatory at this echelon of leadership. To be considered for a leadership position in law enforcement. You must have a thorough knowledge of the legacy of constitutional law that shapes law enforcement policy. A bachelor’s degree that concentrates on Police Administration & Operations will be of benefit.
Too Smart for the Job?
The information so far supports the need for law enforcement people, particularly those on the front lines to be educated beyond high school. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit condones discrimination against smart people. This was the ruling when Robert Jordan, of New London, Connecticut, discovered that the city declined his interview based on his Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test. The New London police department initially rejected Mr. Jordan in 1996. He pursued the rejection through the courts. Three years later the Court of Appeals upheld the decision.
Some police departments reason that the college-educated person may become dissatisfied with the violent nature of the profession. The same University of Michigan study stated that the job dissatisfaction “might stem partly from the fact that college-educated officers who join the force wanting to make a genuine difference in society are instead met with the reality of patrolling high-crime areas at night.”
In addition, police departments want to minimize the drop-out rate. A law enforcement agency needs about three-five years of service to recoup the initial investment of approximately $100,00 per officer. However, the denial of ‘smarter’ individuals is contrary to the reports that more education leads to less violent police work. A 2010 study for the Police Quarterly shows 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.