Research shows that police officers benefit from additional years of schooling

For some time now people have been engaging in debate regarding what to do about police reform. In the city of Minneapolis, one popular solution seems to be “defunding the police”. However, as popular as the slogan and movement is, everyone has their own understanding of what it means to defund the police. This has made it hard to have conversations about other solutions that are possibly more practical than dismantling the police.

There is of course no one sure way to reform the police. But there are some other options that are worth considering and are supported by overwhelming evidence. These options have run aground due to the overwhelming focus on “defunding the police.” One of those options is requiring officers to have higher levels of education. Research exists that supports that more educated officers handle themselves better in their line of work.

In a study of disciplinary cases against Florida officers, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) noted that, “Officers with only high school educations were the subjects of 75 percent of all disciplinary actions. Officers with four-year degrees accounted for 11 percent of such actions.” Since approximately 30 percent of officers have achieved four-year college degrees, the results of the Florida study appear to provide strong evidence that higher education correlates with good behavior. A separate study found that officers with undergraduate degrees performed on par with officers who had 10 years of additional experience.

Police officers who are more educated are also less likely to use unnecessary use of force.

Regarding the use of force, officers who’ve graduated from college are almost 40% less likely to use force. Use of force is defined as actions that range from verbal threats to use force to actually using force that could cause physical harm.

College-educated officers are also less likely to shoot their guns. A study of officer-involved shootings from 1990 to 2004 found that college-educated police officers were almost 30% less likely to fire their weapons in the line of duty. Additionally, one study found that police departments that required at least a two-year degree for officers had a lower rate of officers assaulted by civilians compared to departments that did not require a college degree.

Studies have found that a small proportion of police officers – about 5% – produce most citizen complaints, and officers with a two-year degree are about half as likely to be in the high-rate complaint group. Similarly, researchers have found that officers with at least a two-year degree were 40% less likely to lose their jobs due to misconduct.

Additional education also offers other benefits to officers beyond good behavior. Additional education helps officers to better relate to the community, identify best practices, focus on problem-oriented policing, and also become better leaders.