The debate continues to rage on about whether law enforcement agencies should require a 3 or 4 year degree as a prerequisite to get hired. I am opposed to this and have voiced this concern in presentations and blog posts, the most recent being Some Thoughts on The Calls For Better Educated Cops back on July 27, 2020. I am an advocate for education, but opposed to having a degree being a requirement to get hired, or get promoted.
One of the issues I see is that we focus on front loading education instead of focusing on career long learning for law enforcement professionals. What do I mean by front-loading education? It is the requirement to have a 3 or 4 year degree to get hired. This is followed by a 16 to 26 week pre-service academy, which is critically important to provide the foundation providing it is done properly. After that the majority of the mandated training for officers is annual or bi-annual qualification or certification in areas like firearms, first aide, defensive tactics and a few other topics mandated by the governing bodies or politicians. Throw in some “tick the box” training to address the current hot topic like de-escalation, implicit bias and procedural justice and most of the mandatory training requirements are met.
If people have a degree before joining the profession, great, I am not against that (but it should not be required). The pre-service academy should taught in a manner that is evidence informed and focused on learning, retention and the ability to recall and apply what was taught in the field. The academy should teach critical thinking and decision-making in a learning environment that has eliminated the traditional teach silos.
The academy should lay the foundation for, and inspire a career of learning for officers. This however, requires that agencies create a culture of learning. A Culture of Learning is one where learning is continually delivered throughout the year and throughout people’s careers. This continuous learning culture builds competence, confidence and curiosity in the areas of critical thinking, decision-making, leadership, wellness, communication, emotional intelligence and ethics, all of which are founded on the Core Values of the agency. This ongoing training integrates legal updates, skills and tactics training. It is in this culture that topics like implicit bias can be woven in as a continual touch point.
In order to continually advance the profession we need to embrace the Infinite Game mindset and create cultures of learning and leading. This means putting the focus on continuous professional development training, not simply frontload education and training at the start of a career.
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