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Simon Arnerich Criminal Justice 1010 April 20, 2017

College Education for Police Officers


The question of whether police officers should receive any amount of college education is

a contentious one, dating back to at least the late 19th Century. Those who argue in support of

providing higher education to police suggest that it would open up career opportunities for

lower-ranking officers, as some departments allow employees with degrees to rise through the

ranks more than those who do not have them. An argument against the proposal is that police

work has not changed significantly enough from the Progressive Era, when such reforms were

first introduced, to mandate any amount of college. This paper will provide a brief history of

police training in the United States and Europe, followed by a proposal to train potential police

officers alongside a college education, as suggested by former Berkeley police chief August

Vollmer.

To understand the central question of whether police officers should receive a college

education, it is important to first review a history of police training in general. Training for police

officers first became prominent towards the end of the 19th Century in Europe. It was common in

the French Third Republic and the German Empire to recruit police officers from their respective

militaries, but civilians could apply as well. France opened early police training schools in Paris

in 1883, followed by similar institutions in Bordeaux and Lyons in 1898. Training typically

lasted from three to ten months, depending on the literacy of the candidates. Dictation, police

theory, and conversation were the most commonly taught subjects. Finland and Germany also

utilized similar training methods. (Pagon)

Similar training schools opened in the United States soon after. A state-wide facility in

Pennsylvania was established in 1906, and others soon followed: Detroit in 1911, New York state

in 1917, New Jersey in 1921. City-specific schools were run by the police departments of
Louisville, Cincinnati, Portland, Los Angeles, and Berkeley, although most were elementary

compared to European schools. (Brereton) Berkeley is particularly relevant because in the early

1920s, the chief of police August Vollmer, began impressive reform efforts regarding police

education, saying:

The first step in any plan to make our police departments more competent to control crime is keeping out

rather than the removal after they get in - of undesirable, incompetent, and mentally or physically unfit

persons from the police force, an unfit or incompetent policeman weakens the moral fiber of his associates

and at the same time destroys the confidence of the public in the department. The protective organization

suffers, and society always pays the bill when the 'policemen' of a community are dishonest, brutal, stupid,

and physically or temperamentally unsuited to their work.

Vollmer believed the pressing issue was that police work was seen more as a civil service

than a profession, and to that end he outlined several steps to reform police conduct in an

interview, but the most relevant one is his fourth: Establish preparatory and promotional courses

for policemen in colleges and universities. Brereton notes that around 1930, the quality of

police education varied widely based on an areas population: it was more accessible in large

cities, but it generally didnt exist at all in areas with a population of less than 10,000.

In 1929, Vollmer was hired by the University of Chicago as Professor of Police

Administration, where he began enforcing his earlier goals. While his courses were open to

police officers already working, it was mainly concerned with college students interested in

becoming police officers. Vollmer taught this course until the spring of 1930 when he returned to

Berkeley.
It appears that, throughout the next decade, his ideas were beginning to take root. In

1935, J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI, announced his plans for a university of police

methods at a law enforcement conference, suggesting a nationwide approach to Vollmers ideas.

However, some 30 years after Brereton published his report, a new study by Agnes L.

Baro and David Burlingame at Michigans Grand Valley State University states that only one

percent of law enforcement agencies at the local level require applicants to obtain a four-year

degree, and suggest that, since such reforms were first introduced during the Progressive Era,

police work has not changed significantly enough to warrant a college education. Citing the

militarization of police training, Baro and Burlingame assert that, even though federal funding,

particularly through the 1960s and -70s, increased for educating police officers at a college

level, administrators, their departments, and the public were satisfied with less. Additionally,

they observe that the United States Census Bureau did not list police as professionals, but as

service workers. Ultimately, Baro and Burlingame believe that

Although we remain unconvinced that the essential role of the police has changed, the growing complexity

of police organizations and the rapid expansion of specialized, paramilitary units give rise to serious

concerns about the need for higher education, at least among the command staff. This, in turn, creates

concerns about degree completion, and about a need to more fully integrate police training with education.

To fully integrate training with education, they propose hiring qualified teachers in the

capacities of retreats, conferences, and faculty meetings, as opposed to just in the classroom or

academy. While Baro and Burlingame appear to be skeptical of the Vollmer reforms, or indeed

any broad restructuring of police training, it seems as though they appreciate the need for officers

to at least receive some form of higher education.


Another means to encourage colleges and universities to provide police education would

be to follow the model of the (modern) British police: while a high school diploma, or

equivalent, will be acceptable for lower-ranking officers, college students considering

investigative or administrative careers will need to obtain at least a four-year degree. This will

encourage committed students to pursue high level courses and obtain a degree which will reflect

positively upon themselves when entering law enforcement.

In this authors opinion, college-based police education and training should first start with

a year or twos worth of introductory courses, highlighting histories of criminology and police

training in general, starting with the aforementioned Franco-German model and progressing

towards modern methods, culminating in an introduction to the basics of police work, such as

writing reports, to be supervised by a local officer. The advanced portion of that degree will be

oriented more towards basic training, such as overviews of equipment use and maintenance,

and authorized ride-alongs in neighborhoods with low crime rates.

Higher education for police officers has been a hotly contested question since such

options were first made available. Early police academies in Europe and the United States were

administered in a top-down manner similar to a military unit. Indeed, many candidates enrolled

from the military, but towards the end of the 19th Century and the early 20th Century, the general

public was also permitted to enroll, provided they met certain criteria. In the American

Progressive Era, August Vollmers proposed reforms gained support in the following decades,

leading to police departments nationwide to mandate some amount of college for candidates to

be accepted. It appears as though the best course of action for providing education for police

officers is to integrate it alongside a four-year degree in a related field such as forensics or law, to

provide more competitive candidates to local law enforcement agencies.


Brereton, George H. "The Importance of Training and Education in the Professionalization of

Law Enforcement." Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 11th ser. 52.1 (1961): 1-

11. Scholarly Commons Law. Northwestern University. Web. 4 Apr. 2017.

Pagon, Milan, Bojana Virjent-Novak, Melita Djuric, and Branko Lobnikar. European Systems of

Police Education and Training. Rep. College of Police and Security Studies, Slovenia, 1996.

Web. 5 Apr. 2017.

Baro, Agnes L., and David Burlingame. "Law Enforcement and Higher Education: Is There an

Impasse?" Journal of Criminal Justice Education 73rd ser. 10.57 (1999): 1-14. Web.