Becoming a Police Officer: Education versus Training
Many people confuse education and training; but they are very different. Education is knowledge-based; it is defined as a body of academic knowledge that is most often learned in a classroom setting. Knowledge is theoretical rather than how-to. Using a police-related example, you can study the laws pertaining to arrest without ever taking someone into custody or without having any knowledge of how handcuffs work. You can study the laws and court cases pertaining to the use of deadly force without ever having to aim a firearm and shoot it at someone.
Training, on the other hand, is skills-based. It is how-to and covers what you need to know to perform a specific task or group of tasks. Learning when to take someone into custody involves knowing the law and recognizing that you have witnessed a law being violated; learning how to take someone into custody involves knowing how to approach and talk to a person who is resisting or is agitated or intoxicated and knowing how to place handcuffs on a person in way that is safe to you and to the person being taken into custody.
If the agency to which you are applying has education requirements, you will be expected to have achieved these on your own. The training you need to be a police officer will be provided to you by your employer.
With the exception of federal agencies, according to data collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than half (63% in 2000) required only a high school diploma or General Education Diploma (GED) for employment. About 37% required some college, most often 60 credits or a two-year degree; fewer than 5% required a four-year degree. Agencies requiring education beyond a high school diploma, while still a relatively small percentage, have increased substantially since the 1990s. Additionally, minimum requirements do not always accurately reflect actual hiring practices. Although formal studies are sparse, many agencies have indicated that more than half their applicants have educations beyond the minimum requirements for employment. (See Chapter 4 for more information on education.)
Your first assignment as a newly hired officer will be to attend and successfully complete a police academy. The words police academy have become synonymous with basic training as a police officer. At certain times during your career you will very likely return to the police academy for supervisory, management, or specialized training. But when people in policing refer to the academy they are referring not only to a physical place, but to the initial training officers receive. When an officer says of another officer, "I went to the academy with her," this means they received their basic training together.
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