All about Police Officer Education
I was always interested in public service and public safety. Before I went to college, I was a fire department explorer and then a volunteer. In college, I worked with several police and fire agencies. After graduation, I applied to police departments in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago. The only one hiring was in Rochester, New York. I had to take the civil service exam, and score well to get hired. In agencies that use the test, your score is the most important part of the process. It doesn't matter what your abilities or education are if you don't score well.
—Chief of Police, 11 years experience
IT MAY not seem that in today's technologically oriented workplace the need for advanced education should be questioned, but this is not the reality in police work. Whether police candidates should have only a high school diploma, a two-year degree, a four-year degree, or military experience continues to be debated within the profession.
Advanced education in fields such as police studies, criminal justice, public administration, or related fields would seem most appropriate for a better understanding of the nature of police work. But many advocates of education for police candidates believe that any major is appropriate. They believe that what an educated officer brings is not information about policing per se, but a broader perspective on life. This includes critical thinking skills that help an officer to exercise discretion wisely and that contribute to an open-minded approach to people whose backgrounds and lives are different from the officer's own.
This echoes the standards set by police agencies. Of those that expect candidates to have education beyond a high school or General Education Diploma (GED), few specify a major field of study. More likely is a minimum number of credits rather than a specific field of study. Examples of the wording of educational requirements include "some college," "60 credits," "a two-year degree," or, least common, "a four-year degree."
Because a college degree is a requirement for such a small percentage of law enforcement agencies, you may be asking yourself whether you should attend college or whether you should worry about completing college if you receive an offer of employment. For some, this will be as important a decision as accepting a job offer. Consider the following: According to the U.S. Census, in 2007, more than 25% of adults over the age of 25 had at least a bachelor's degree.
Professionally, you must keep in mind that although most departments require only a high school-level education, actual hiring practices indicate that more than half the applicants you will be competing against have educations beyond the minimum requirements.
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