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The following information comes from a web article in USA Today by Kevin Johnson, updated on 09/18/2006.
Last February, the Plano, Texas, Police Department took a bold step in its police recruiting efforts: At a time when departments across the nation are desperate for new officers, Plano began requiring its recruits to have four-year college degrees.
The move was aimed at making the city's 345-member police force more like the residents of Plano, a city of about 260,000 about 18 miles north of Dallas. Plano is in one of the nation's wealthiest counties and is home to the headquarters of JC Penney, Frito Lay and Electronic Data Systems. Plano officials cited studies indicating that officers with college degrees have fewer discipline problems than those without.
In August, however, as Plano strained to find enough recruits, the city eased its hiring requirements and began accepting those with two years of college or three years in the military. The latest requirements are stiffer than those from last year, when recruits were required to have at least the equivalent of a high school education. But the episode fueled an ongoing debate over whether police departments' desire to raise recruiting standards can be realized at a time when there are thousands of openings for cops nationwide.
Since 1963, when the Multnomah County, OR, Sheriff's Department became one of the first police agencies to impose a four-year degree requirement on recruits, only a few other local departments have followed.
Less than 5% of local police departments with more than 100 officers require four-year degrees, says Louis Mayo, executive director of the Police Association for College Education.
Most departments give higher pay to recruits with four-year degrees, he says, but have avoided requiring recruits to have them for several reasons. Among them: concerns about recruiting enough minority officers in increasingly diverse urban areas, and fears that not enough college graduates would be attracted by police salaries. The median annual salary for patrol officers nationwide was about $45,200 in 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Rookie cops usually make less.
"Everybody is gonna tell you it's difficult" to recruit only college graduates, says Plano police Sgt. Jason Christensen. That's true even in Plano, where the pay for new cops is relatively high, about $51,000.
There are about 700,000 state and local police officers across the nation. Mayo estimates that 25% to 30% have four-year degrees. He says departments have been reluctant to adopt stricter recruiting standards despite evidence suggesting that better-educated cops perform better.
In an analysis of disciplinary cases against Florida cops from 1997 to 2002, the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that officers with only high school educations were the subjects of 75% of all disciplinary actions. Officers with four-year degrees accounted for 11% of such actions.
"An average patrol officer spends most of the time on dispute resolution," Mayo says. A degree "gives (officers) a broad perspective that makes them much more effective."
Los Angeles' approach to police recruiting and pay is typical of most big cities. The 9,000-officer department pays new cops with four-year degrees about $55,200, roughly $4,000 more than those who meet the basic requirements of a high school diploma or GED.
Reaves, B. A. (2015). Local Police Departments, 2013: Personnel, Policies, and Practices. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics (LEMAS) Survey. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.