EDUCATION IS CRITICAL TO POLICE REFORM
POST Commission Balks At Boosting Police Education Requirement
The movement toward educating police officers began about a century ago, when August Vollmer, the father of professional policing, first required a college degree for the Berkeley California police department. His effort was the first step in a long struggle, that continues to this day, to wrest policing from the hands of politicians, and into the realm of professional accountability. It is important to constantly keep in mind that politics and politicians are the mortal enemy of professional policing, because the latter poses a challenge to a politician’s innate urge to control anything and everything that can enhance political power. Patronage is one of the primary sources of that power and police appointments are the sweetest plum in the basket.
In 1968 the US Congress passed the Omnibus Crime Bill, which instituted sweeping reforms to the way policing was conducted. One of its major recommendations was to upscale the education requirements for police officers. This led to the passage of the controversial Quinn Bill, which, with its many drawbacks, infused Massachusetts policing with new blood, new ideas and new approaches. For those who deny the Quinn Bill’s effectiveness, a good hard look at the Chicago police riot of 1968 might prove very informative. Standards of police conduct that people take for granted today, did not exist before 1968. Many of the problems besetting policing today can be attributed to a retreat from the educational standard set at that time.
In an interesting March 26, 2022 article, Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), began to lay the political ground work for pulling the rug out from under Federal support for police education. He offered the old bromide, that while educated cops might be good, the education often comes at the expense of common sense. He went on to note that a retreat from education is occurring in Chicago and New Orleans for that reason. Ironically, these are among the most corrupt and ineffective police agencies in the nation, an indication that politicians are re-asserting their control at a most critical time. Wexler apparently wants to get ahead of this. So much for Federal leadership.
Here in Massachusetts, our newly created POST Commission has also retreated from advancing education as a requirement. The Commission backed away from requiring a two-year college degree. MAPLE has responded to this decision by forwarding a position paper to the commission, (see attached) and requesting the opportunity to appear before the Commission to defend our position. In the paper we cite well established reasons for a minimum 60 hours higher education course requirement. These include: educated police officers are less likely to use lethal force; they better understand critical concepts of law, psychology, government and the role of policing in a democratic society; their biases and assumptions are challenged, improving their critical thinking skills; and they are better inoculated against corruption. While education can’t guarantee honesty and integrity, it can provide important tools to make good officers more effective, and that is undeniable. Police training today is primarily skills oriented. This alone is insufficient. An academic component is necessary to broaden the understanding police officers need to grasp their role, and what they can expect to encounter in society. Contemporary police training cannot do this because of the time constraints and lack of competent faculty.
The POST Commission also bought into the argument that a higher education requirement would lead to the exclusion of minority candidates for police appointments. MAPLE refuted that argument, submitting data demonstrating that minority attendance at our community colleges is now approaching 50%. We argued that the most significant impediment to minority hiring was “absolute veteran’s preference” and we demonstrated that by requiring a two year degree, minority members, who were not veterans, would dramatically expand their opportunities for being hired, if they possessed the 60 hour credit.
It is time for us all to get honest about police reform. We require LPN’s, electricians and plumbers to undergo training and pass certifications for the jobs that they perform. We should be able to agree that policing is at least as technical as those vocations, if so it is hard to refute a modest 60 hour accreditation requirement for those who seek to wear a badge. To deny this is pure folly.
(Members are invited to offer comments and counter opinions. Publication rests within the discretion of the MAPLE Update editor)