All police should be required to have tertiary qualifications. Why?

Police reform through education

All police should be required to have tertiary qualifications. Why?

Every few years it seems that police reform is yet again a heated topic in some region of the world. In 2014, the then police commissioner for Western Australia wrote about creating a better future in policing through police reform (O’Callaghan, 2014). In the United States of America in 2015 the deaths of several black community members across different instances and events caused widespread civil unrest and call for police reform (Dianis, 2015; Toobin, 2015). And in the United Kingdom, there are bodies established with the goal of reforming policing institutions to face modern crimes while providing services that are trusted by the public (Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, 2017). Indeed, most western countries and many eastern blocks or third world countries struggle with calls for police reform from their constituents periodically, normally in the aftermath that follows a disaster or particularly publicised scandal. During these times, police institutions often look at higher education as a form of organisational reform as a get out of a controversy-free card. Its ease of implementation and acceptance by the civilian community only enforces its status as an appealing scapegoat for reformists and policymakers. But by equipping our police officers with tertiary qualifications, we are also ensuring they have another tool needed in the fight against crime and corruption. This essay will take the positive side of the claim that all police officers should be required to have tertiary qualifications. This essay will argue in support of this claim by showing how increased tertiary education and other qualifications improve the overall health of a police department, the benefits on individual policing, and compare how effectively police officers with and without a university degree perform in relation to each other when they’re actively carrying out their duties.

Instilling resistance to corruption

Tertiary qualifications can improve the overall health of a police department in many ways, such as bolstering the policing command structure’s ability to and the likelihood of resisting corruption. Wimshurst and Ransley (2007) have said in their paper on police education that regarding the objective of improving organisational structure through tertiary qualifications, achieving reform lies in weeding out corruption and reinforcing the public image of police officers. Rowe and Garland (2007) discuss that interventions for corruption focus on solutions of greater education and training. In society, it’s safe to assume most citizens want to feel safe and free from crime. When thinking about police as an institution, things like direction, goals, and values are defined by the top of the organizational structure. Citizens want individuals in charge of these structures to be educated correctly for their jobs and resistant to ideas of corruption or abuse of power. Both Mollen (1994) and Fitzgerald (1989) discuss in detail in their reports the concept of improving practices and behaviours of police offices, with higher education and tertiary qualifications a possible partial solution to a complex problem of systemic corruption and police abuse. It can be almost universally accepted that anyone currently living as part of our social contract would argue against police corruption. When looking at accountability for corruption, a 2016 cross-cultural study determined that regardless of the country it came down to, it was a person’s individual values that were the most crucial factor on controlling abusive or corrupt behaviour (Tatarko & Mironova, 2016). The idea that undertaking tertiary qualifications instils values and behaviour that is likely to reduce untoward behaviour is further supported by a national survey from the United States of 113 different law enforcement departments and 925 officers concluded that police officers who receive a tertiary qualification have mindsets that are less abetting of corruption (Telep, 2008).

Resolving conflicts without force

The benefit of requiring all police officers to have tertiary qualifications doesn’t just stop with improving institutional resistance to corruption. Police officers with tertiary qualifications also perform more effectively on the job than those without equivalent levels of education. Smith and Klein (1983) discovered that increased levels of education resulted in a lower number of arrests. They considered the education level of a police department as a unit and compared multiple departments against each other. They found that police officers in departments with a low score of education conducted more arrests than their counterparts in a department that had a higher education score. Their results are further supported by the work of Finckenauer (1975). A later study by Rydberg and Terrill (2010) couldn’t make a connection between individual police officer education and arrests in the singular police vs suspect encounters but did go on to identify that tertiary qualifications reduce the likelihood of the use of force occurring by a significant margin. Their work is backed up by the results of further studies from Paoline and Terrill (2007) and Terrill and Mastrofski (2002) with the former study concluding those police officers with any additional education above high school education use less verbal force, and police officers with full tertiary qualifications use significantly less physical force than their less educated colleagues. The latter study looked at data from 3,116 encounters which showed that when less educated officers were involved higher levels of force were used. It almost goes without saying that the more opportunities for police officers to do their jobs without having to resort to the use of force the better, especially when it comes to the use of deadly force. McElvain and Kposowa (2008) conducted a study of 186 police officer shootings and used the data to determine those police officers who held tertiary qualifications discharged their weapons as much as 41% less than their lesser educated counterparts. Therefore, any tools that enable officers to find opportunities to resolve conflict without employing verbal, physical, or deadly force, such as tertiary qualifications should be mandatory for all officers.

Tertiary qualifications and ethics

Setting tertiary qualification requirements for new recruits contributes to the growing professionalisation of police forces worldwide. By having higher education standards, police forces attract higher quality candidates and as Christopher (2015) proposes, ultimately moves closer towards becoming a graduate profession. Professionalising the police force also creates additional benefits to individual police officers, not just benefits for the police force as an organisation. Krimmel and Lindenmuth (2016) conducted a survey of 205 individuals who directly oversee police chiefs in their municipalities and found that when predicting success in leadership roles, police chiefs with tertiary qualifications and education backgrounds rated higher than those whose education qualifications stopped after high school. This data shows that tertiary qualifications give police officers the tools required to succeed in leadership and command roles. In their paper, Roberts, Herrington, Jones, White, and Day (2016) covered the unique position of police leadership candidates in modern police forces and institutions. They concluded that education can give career police officers the appropriate creative and critical thinking skills that are required to solve the complex problems facing police now and into the future. In a recent study of police departments in Alabama (Carlan, 2007), officers with tertiary qualifications in criminal justice stated the degrees they obtained improved their communication, critical thinking, administration, and patrol and investigation procedures, thus allowing them to be more effective in the field and stand out as better candidates for upcoming opportunities and promotions. Tertiary qualifications provide the framework for police officers to build skills that enable them to outperform their lesser educated counterparts. This is further shown with Shernock, (1992) who concluded that ethical conduct is a higher priority for police officers with tertiary qualifications when compared to their non-university educated colleagues.

Reaching a tipping point

The studies above show that instituting tertiary qualification requirements for recruiting police officers can help to improve resistance to institutional corruption and abuse of power by authority figures (Tatarko & Mironova, 2016; Telep, 2008; Mollen, 1994; Fitzgerald, 1989). And that by equipping police officers with tertiary qualifications and additional levels of education police forces are giving their police officers the tools needed to solve suspect interactions and callouts with not only lower levels of verbal and physical force but also deadly force, which can save lives (Rydberg & Terrill, 2010; Paoline & Terrill, 2007; Terrill & Mastrofski, 2002; McElvain & Kposowa, 2008). As well as the reduction in force, tertiary qualifications result in police officers handling situations in ways that result in fewer arrests (Smith & Klein, 1983; Finckenauer, 1975). This essay has also shown that tertiary qualifications for police officers create additional individual benefits across the duration of their careers (Krimmel & Lindenmuth, 2016; Roberts, et al., 2016; Carlan, 2007). In summary, all of this evidence combined clearly shows that police officers with tertiary qualifications perform more effectively in their daily duties, with suspects, and over the course of their potential careers than officers without tertiary qualifications, and therefore shows that all police officers should be required to have tertiary qualifications.

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