Higher education increasingly key to police promotions

If you don’t want that young, snot-nosed rookie beating you out of a promotion down the road, then get your education!


When I began in law enforcement, most young recruits didn’t have bachelor’s degrees. In most states, a person could become a police officer at the ripe old age of 21, and an aspiring officer had basically three choices out of high school. Go into the military, go to college and get your degree, or go to the academy and become an officer as soon as eligible.

But now, we see so many high schools that are offering advanced placement courses, and many high schoolers are graduating with up to two years of college before they ever step foot on a university campus. Under this scenario, an aspiring police officer could obtain a bachelor’s degree AND be hired as a cop at or around the age of 21 years old. Once hired, most or at least many employers are offering tuition reimbursement, which would make it possible for a young officer, say, 24, to already have two to three years on the street and have completed a Master’s degree.

Younger Police Leaders
Over time this will become the norm, especially in larger-scale police agencies. It will not be uncommon to see Lieutenants, Captains, and even Assistant Chiefs in their late 20s and early 30s, already with several years on the job. Chiefs and Sheriffs' ages will begin to drop as well, but with the same years of experience as their older predecessors.

Now let’s discuss the age-old debate of whether or not a college education makes a better cop. Whichever stance you take, it is pretty apparent that college education is the trend, whether you like it or not. When confronted by younger officer’s that say “College don’t make you a better cop” my reply is this may in fact be true, but let’s look at a scenario.

You are a good, experienced cop and you are are up against another good, experienced cop who busted his butt and got a college education. Who do you think is going to have the advantage on the Sergeant’s exam? Many civil service agencies give extra points or credit for military service and college credit. Can you really expect to compete for promotion with someone that has all three: experience, education, and military service?

Getting a college degree is hard work. It takes commitment, dedication, and determination. But I have yet to find an officer that believes his or her education makes them any less of a cop.

Criminal Justice programs are some of the fastest-growing programs on college and university campuses across the country (and even worldwide). Most give you college hours for your academy training, and some even for your documented field training.

Take Control of Your Future
If you are a veteran cop who wants to promote and doesn’t want that young, snot-nosed rookie beating you out of a promotion down the road, then get your education! We can all make excuses and justify why it’s too hard, or why we don’t have time, but in the meanwhile one of your peers is hittin’ the books hard when he gets home from his tour every night. It’s your future, own it. Don’t follow the path, blaze your own trail. Stay safe.

About the author

Lt. Hawkes is a 23-year police veteran. In addition to his years of highway drug interdiction, Lt. Hawkes has worked in patrol, K9, investigations, narcotics, and administration. He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Dallas Baptist University and is a graduate of the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Justice Leadership and Administration from the University of Texas at Dallas.  He has been the recipient of both State and Local awards, including the Medal of Valor. His book, Secrets of Successful Highway Interdiction, which can be purchased here, contains eleven chapters on Highway Drug Interdiction.

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