On June 1, 2020, Matt Verderame posted a viral Tweet stating, “An idea: Police officers should need a four-year degree in criminal justice. There should be mandatory courses in deescalation, mental health, coping, etc.” He continues, “This isn’t only for public safety, it’s to help the officers. It’s also to weed out kids who are mad and want authority.”
I’m not exactly sure when the public began to see Matt Verderame, a national NFL reporter, as a subject matter expert in the world of law enforcement, but there are so many reasons that can lead us to believe this Tweet was posted out of emotion and not logic. I’ve narrowed it down to the top five.
1. Most police departments already require college education.
The first point here is perhaps the most ironic. Matt, the police “expert”, fails to see that for most of the police departments across the United States today, there already exists a requirement for college education.
In fact, according to a recent article from the Police Foundation, About one third (30.2 percent) of police officers in the United States have a four-year college degree. A little more than half (51.8 percent) have a two-year degree.
Where we don’t find any supporting evidence, however, is in the theory that college universities somehow produce “better cops”.
2. These very same departments offer military service exceptions.
As an exception for the common college education requirement, most police departments in the United States offer an alternative “in” for individuals who have served a minimum of two years (active duty) in the United States Armed Forces and received an honorable discharge. This allows them to apply for employment without fulfilling the need for a college degree. What is the overall feedback on this?
It seems that the majority of people who serve in a law enforcement capacity find it more advantageous to have military service in place of a college education. This is for a number of reasons, but just to name a few:
- Individuals gain the concept of discipline, military “bearing”, and are familiar with handling themselves calmly in stressful situations.
- The opportunity for people of a young age to become familiar with full-time work.
- Individuals work in an environment that fosters teamwork, but requires individual talent.
- Many of the skills learned in the military are directly relatable to the law enforcement industry (defensive combat and restraint techniques, shooting, physical fitness and nutrition, etc.)
- A deeper understanding and respect of the United States Constitution is found.
Herein lies the question; if you now require ALL cops to obtain a four-year degree, do veterans lose their exemption? It can easily be argued that military service is far more beneficial than the classroom.
3. Law enforcement receives countless hours of continued education.
In the areas of mental health, deescalation, and coping, police officers are anything but under-equipped.
The problem here isn’t that cops lack the training, but rather the mass public misunderstands (or is ignorant of) the cop’s training.
A popular meme has recently surfaced stating “It takes 1500 hours of training to be a barber and only 500 hours to be a cop; let that sink in”. While this sounds very convincing, it simply isn’t true.
For example, in the state of Texas, the Texas Commission of Law Enforcement (TCOLE) requires a minimum of nearly 800 training hours in a vast array of subjects just to obtain the “Basic Peace Officer License”. The commission also requires extensive continued education after the academy, including all licensed peace officers to complete 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training every 24 months. This is in addition to civilian interaction courses, legislative updates, and a number of other essential curriculum.
A common misconception is that the police academy is where a police officer receives all of his/her training. That couldn’t possibly be father from the truth.
In short, no, barbers and police officers are not comparable entities. This brings us to a final point.
4. A criminal justice degree plan has very little to do with police work (most cops will agree).
Little-to-nothing that you learn in college studying criminal justice is translatable to what you see in the streets as a police officer. And honestly, the police academy provides the essential academia that you would find in a college degree plan anyways.
Tacking onto my previous point (#4), I have heard many people use the analogy that the police academy is like pouring the concrete slab of a foundation, and that from that foundation you build your house. I couldn’t disagree more.
Imagine walking into a dense rainforest. You are looking to build a house but nothing around seems even remotely ideal. Before you can even think about pouring a slab, you have to clear out the trees, level the ground, locate nearby water, and make the appropriate preparations for your construction.
THAT is the aim of the police academy; to clear your trees. The police academy is not designed to make cops, but to make people ready to learn to be cops. Police cadets must have a clear mind and fundamental understanding of the law before they are prepared to handle the difficulties of law enforcement. The real training doesn’t begin until you “hit the streets”.
Upon graduating the police academy, “rookie” officers are assigned to a Field Training Officer (FTO) who will begin to pour their slab. In their FTO phases, rookies will begin to learn how to properly apply the law in the streets and take appropriate action as a police officer. Every FTO program is a little bit different, but one fact that is universally agreed upon is that NONE of it can be taught in a college environment.
It is impossible to learn the unpredictable nature of the world in a controlled environment. It doesn’t matter how “extensive” the education may seem on the surface, it simply couldn’t suffice.
Yes, I understand that not EVERY department operates with these stipulations, but the majority of them do. Feel free to disagree or engage with this post. You can email directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions!