Home Budgets How Education Impacts Police Performance

How Education Impacts Police Performance


By Mark Bond, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University

The Wickersham Commission and President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice recommended that higher education is a means to better professional policing. Research studies show police officers who have earned a college degree demonstrate better overall job performance and have greater advancement opportunities than their colleagues without a college degree.

[Related: Police Ethics: Does Education Matter?]

Research conducted by Jason Rydberg and Dr. William Terrill from Michigan State University provides evidence that having a college degree significantly reduces the likelihood that officers will use force as their first option to gain compliance. The study also discovered evidence of educated officers demonstrating greater levels of creativity and problem-solving skills.

A Field Slow To Change

Police and TechnologyDespite the research and benefits, why is the police profession slow at adapting higher educational standards and requirements for all officers? Only a few innovative and progressive agencies have instituted educational requirements for officers despite the evidence, and these agencies have reported getting a better pool of police candidates, increased professionalism, stronger community relations, and independent problem-solving skills.

[Related: Prevent Police-Involved Shootings with Education, Training]

While none of the studies indicated education as a replacement for street experience, they did show that educated officers are likely to make better decisions when dealing with confrontations.

Personal Benefits of Education

The studies indicate education has the following benefits on officers’ abilities and performance:

  • Better behavioral and performance characteristics
  • Better skilled with independent decision-making and problem-solving
  • Better skilled at articulating their thoughts
  • Greater aptitude for innovative thinking
  • Improved adaptability
  • Fewer on-the-job injuries and assaults
  • More proficient in technology
  • Enhanced grant writing abilities
  • Improved budget and management abilities
  • Fewer departmental disciplinary actions and internal investigations
  • Less likely to be involved in unethical behavior
  • Less likely to use force as the first response
  • Enhanced report writing skills
  • Displays maturity for age
  • Better at discovering extra resources
  • Demonstrated enhanced department responsibilities
  • Less use of sick time (work ethic and seeing the big picture)
  • Greater acceptance of minorities (diversity and cultural awareness)
  • Decrease in dogmatism, authoritarianism, rigidity and conservatism
  • Improved communication skills (oral and written)
  • Fewer formal citizen complaints
  • Promotion of higher aspirations
  • Better adapted to accepting critical feedback on job performance
  • Enhancement of minority recruitment efforts
  • Intellectual personal growth
  • Better adapted to retirement and second-career opportunities

Continuing Your Education, While You Serve

Going back to school will take some planning, commitment, and sacrifices. Universities and colleges have made it easier to get a degree than ever before. Attending traditional classes can be tough when officers are working rotating shifts, attending in-service training, and appearing in court. Sitting in a traditional classroom several times a week during the semester is difficult for law enforcement officers. Studying online or taking hybrid classes—a combination of traditional and online classes—is a good alternative.

Experienced police officers have a few ways to shorten the length of time it takes to earn a four-year degree by looking for programs that offer prior learning assessment (PLA). The PLA program is way to demonstrate prior learning through a portfolio process that will award college credit on topics such as patrol procedures, criminal investigation, criminal law, introduction to policing, and other police-related topics.

Taking exams through the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) is another great way to earn college credit. CLEP is the credit-by-examination program and is another way to shorten the length of the time it will take to earn a degree. CLEP exams are offered at most local community colleges and is a 90-minute examination ranging on topics such as U.S. History, Spanish, and Algebra. CLEP offers a wide range of other general education topics as well. By passing the CLEP exam you can earn college credit towards the general education requirements for an undergraduate degree.

The Outlook for Educated Officers

Law enforcement has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. With the adoption of new technology, computer skills are a basic requirement to function and communicate in a modern technical society. Understanding forensic science and how this evidence can strengthen a case, as well as the technical skills to understand ways to fight cybercrime, require educated detectives using a multi-disciplined approach. Modern police departments need highly educated people capable or leading change in an evolving technology-oriented society. With the trend of citizens with video cameras watching uniformed police officers perform their duties, research indicates that educated officers will act with more discretion, tolerance, and restraint when confronting resistance. By police officers continuing their education they make themselves a current and relevant asset to their departments and society.

About the Author: Mark Bond has worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms trainer for more than 29 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military and local, state, and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a B.S. and M.S. in Criminal Justice, and M.Ed in Educational Leadership with summa cum laude honors. As a lifelong learner, he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in education with a concentration in distance education. Mark is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at American Military University & American Public University and is one of the faculty directors in the School of Public Service & Health. You can contact him at Mark.Bond(at)mycampus.apus.edu.


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  1. Just like the military, law enforcement agencies have a hard enough time finding qualified applicants let alone college educated ones. America needs to focus on finding youth interested in public service and mentoring them. The rise of socialism has led to a younger generation not interested in becoming a cop, firefighter, soldier, etc. Too many young adult men and women are not fit enough to be a cop and have bad credit, abuse marijuana, or would just rather be a lawyer, nurse, engineer, computer geek, or any number of jobs that pay the same or more than a cop.

  2. I would suggest that those who demonstrate innate ability are the most valuable (with, or without, a degree). If someone could turn the performance measures around and look at all the officers who share the list of characteristics, with or without a degree, that would be really clever. Compare the two groups and find the things that make good and bad law enforcement officer with the means to identify them at the recruitment stage. Of course, that is a much more difficult task, unless it is as someone suggested, simply a matter of IQ. I have a Master of Laws degree, obtained after I left the police (which I joined with the bare minimum qualifications) after been admitted to a prestigious university…on the basis of my street learning and experience as a police officer.

    1. I would suggest that “Innate ability” or as the rest of us refer to it as uneducated nearly always offers an insight into what an individual is capable of. In other words, if one chooses not to go to college they have determined they are “Good enough” at what they do to not see a need to push themselves any further. To actually entertain the idea that by going to college they may actually learn something they did not already know. Or they are lying to themselves because in truth they do not possess the strength or mental capacity to take on such a challenge. We are all born with”innate ability” however if we just left it at that my guess is we would most likely have continued to live in caves never challenging our inherent beliefs, never expanding our mentality.

  3. Great article, thanks! The learning never stops once you leave school or college. As a graduate you have a network of like-minded officers to call on for advice, plus research skills to solve new problems.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree that police officers should have an education beyond high school…if only to be more tolerant with minorities. Just less than two years ago, I was treated with contempt by an officer who went out of his way to give me a ticket for avoiding an intersection…first one I have ever gotten and I’m a minority in my fifties. I was accompanied by my elderly parents and purposely provoked him to see how far this would get. Fortunately neither I nor my parents got arrested. When I later confronted his colleagues and superiors about it they covered up for him, especially about how much formal education he had. Hurt and dismayed, I eventually got over it, knowing that at least some lawyers out there were willing to take my case. Only one kind upper officer in the precinct declined to speak to me and my father because I had already threatened to file a civil suit against that police department. A little over a year later the Ferguson, MO incident occurred and my personal post education experience attests to how the more academically educated I became the less racially or ethnically biased were people I met.

  5. Before I earned my degree I had several years on the street plus military. I can honestly say I sure did not learn much in college that I had not already been exposed to prior to college.

  6. Education vastly impact performance of a police office, it has been found that college educated cops are more well-rounded individuals; meaning that they are much better quipped for taking on leader roles. Colleges most encourage students to thing logically and critically, which is something that is not taught in the police academy. Along, with police officers with higher education degrees have much better understanding of the community and all its issues, and are able to foster relationships with the people they serve.


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