by Patrick J. Solar, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and 30-year police veteran, serving as a patrol officer, detective, sergeant, lieutenant and chief of police.
The ranks of policing are full of dedicated and well-meaning men and women armed with a minimum of a high school diploma and perhaps some college. Given the increasingly complex nature of the policing function it is no longer reasonable to expect the modern police officer to meet the challenges of this job armed only with these minimum qualifications and the academy. The answer is not adding more hours on to the academy as they have done in my home state of Wisconsin. We need police officers to be armed with a level of maturity and wisdom that comes from a liberal arts college degree. This is not a new idea, it was made perfectly clear as a result of the last Presidential commission report back in 1967.
There is no doubt that obtaining a college degree costs both time and money but education is an investment with a high return; wise, quality policing. Educated police officers are much more likely to have the wisdom to know when to use force, as well as how and when to de-escalate. They would be better able to appreciate differences in others, and would deeply understand the social inequalities that lead some people to commit a crime and break the law. Police officer education can bring top-caliber officers into the ranks by encouraging thoughtful discussion and lengthy contemplation about the use of force as well as other pressing issues they confront. Thoughtful contemplation will resonate throughout the careers of educated officers who, as a result, possess the confidence to question and even challenge the status quo.
I believe that what we need most are men and women of "good will," armed with education and experience backed-up with a level of emotional maturity that is recognized, promoted and rewarded by enlightened police supervisors and leaders.