Photo Courtesy: Beal College
Does requiring a cop to have a college education improve the quality of law enforcement? Minnesota says yes.
Minnesota is one of only two states in the nation to require a two-year degree to become a licensed police officer. However, policymakers and others still debate whether college courses directly affect the quality of law enforcement.
Most of the country’s law enforcement agencies require only a high school diploma to become an officer. As of 2003, 9 percent of police agencies required a two-year degree, and 1 percent required a four-year degree.
Minnesota’s law enforcement application has some of the strictest requirements in the country. A minimum two-year degree is required from an approved Peace Officer Standards and Training program. After earning a two-year degree in any discipline, candidates must also earn a licensing certificate from an accredited school, according to Nate Grove, POST executive director.
Once that’s finished, candidates must take the licensing exam. Once licensed, every active and inactive police officer — including part-time officers — must complete a minimum 48 hours of continuing education every three years in order to keep their license.
Active officers are also required to train every year on use of force, and every five years in emergency vehicle operations and pursuit driving.
In 1977, Minnesota legislators established the nation’s first licensing system for police officers, according to the FBI. This created the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training. The board authorizes licenses and determines minimum education requirements for all new officers.
Some education experts and organizations have argued for even stricter education requirements. They argue that community-focused policing requires particular skill sets, such as critical thinking and reasoning, an understanding of the causes of socioeconomic crime, and race relations.
Others are skeptical that higher education makes a difference in an officer’s ability to perform.
James Densley, associate professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, co-authored a study that looked into law enforcement hiring practices and the role of higher education in policing.
Simply having a college degree might not be a good indicator of how well someone performs in the actual profession, Densley said. “Quality, not the quantity of the degree, matters most.”
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