Recruiting the 21st Century police officer (part 3)
To maintain the highest level of service to the community, police agencies must adapt to the new generation, increase standards in education, work toward a professional culture, and hire minority recruits
As the citizens in the community become more educated, policing as a profession must become more educated as well. The skills learned through college education are required “to be an effective police officer in the 21st century” (White & Escobar, 2008, p. 123). Police agencies must begin to recruit officers that have taken the initiative to better themselves through education.
The call for higher educational requirements for police officers has been around for decades. In 1918, August Vollmer’s movement toward police professionalism called upon departments to hire college educated police officers. He began hiring college students to fill part time policing positions (Decker & Huckabee, 2002). The 1931 Wickersham Commission Report called upon American police departments to create formal education requirements as well. This commission believed that changes over the next fifteen years “may see a great chain of instruction throughout the country which will make possible an education for every policeman. Only in this manner can the police ever hope successfully to cope with the crime situation (Wickersham Commission, 1931, p. 85).
The 1960’s saw police in the middle of a social conflict that forced leaders to take a hard look at policing and the criminal justice system in general (Decker & Huckabee, 2002). The 1967 report by the Presidents Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice called upon police institutions to again create a higher standard of educational requirements for law enforcement officers. In the report The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society, the commission recommended that “the ultimate aim of all police departments should be that all personnel with general enforcement powers have baccalaureate degrees” (President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, 1967, p. 109).
There are many reasons cited for the need of college educated police officers. First and foremost, the development of critical thinking skills is linked to higher education (White & Escobar, 2008). These skills are a necessity in today’s police department as agencies move to community policing and problems solving as a base line for success. Officers are frequently called upon to create solutions to problems that do not necessarily fall under the typical police crime problem. Neighborhood problems that affect the quality of life are dealt with far more frequently than typical criminal investigations. When residents have no place else to turn, they call the police to help.
A Mighty Full Plate
In addition to the 911-response-driven police activity, officers today are required to not only attend community meetings to discuss problems but are responsible for facilitating those meetings as well. This requires well-developed communication skills — both written and verbal. Officers who have at least two years of college education are typically more prepared to handle this type of situation. In two separate studies of Florida Police officers, researchers found that those officers who had a minimum of a two year degree performed better overall in police job functions and were more likely to act ethically in their law enforcement duties (Tyre & Braunstein, 1992). Ethical performance by police officers is paramount to the success of any agency in their respective communities.
If the public cannot trust the police department, communication and partnership begin to break down.
One of the biggest arguments against utilizing higher education as a prerequisite for employment in policing is the concern over losing potentially good recruits, especially minority and female applicants. The number of minorities and women attending and receiving degrees, however, has risen substantially since the 1980’s. In 2007, minority enrollment in institutions of higher learning increased more than forty-seven percent (Cook & Cordova, 2007). After a study of this issue in 1991, the Police Executive Research Forum determined that “there was an adequate pool of both minority and majority college educated men and women interested in police employment (White & Escobar, 2008, p. 123). If this is the case, however, why do police agencies continue to struggle with recruiting minorities and women?
While opportunities for minorities in law enforcement have increased over the last 40 years, there continues to be discrimination in the workplace in terms of hiring, promotions, and assignments (Decker & Huckabee, 2002). Police agencies must be culturally and racially diverse, mirroring the community in which they serve (White & Escobar, 2008). There has been supported research that lack of diversity in the organization may lead to poor relations with the community as well as misconduct by the officers (White & Escobar).
Police departments should use targeted recruitment strategies to bring in more minority applicants. Some suggested strategies include the use of minority recruiters, contacts with minority community leaders, and recruiting drives that specifically target minority applicants. In addition, it is recommended that recruiters maintain personal contact with minorities during the recruitment process (Decker & Huckabee, 2002). Agencies must, however, recruit minorities “without regard to race or ethnic origin” (National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals, 1973, p. 331).
While applicant pools have grown over the past year, police agencies still need to be focused on finding qualified applicants that fit with the community and organizational culture. Many from this expanded pool of applicants are not interested in making law enforcement a career. Once the economy recovers, they will move back into the private sector where pay and benefits are more competitive. In order to maintain the highest level of service to the community, police agencies must adapt to the new generation, increase standards in education, work toward a professional culture, and hire minority recruits. These strategies must be put in place in order to recruit the next generation police officer.