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Criminal Justice & Legal System

Do cops need college?

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How does having a college degree affect an officer's view of police work, the community, and commanding officers?

William Terrill is a Michigan State University criminologist and co-author of a new study on police attitudes. His research, including a survey of more than 2,100 officers in seven mid-to-large-sized departments across the U.S., is being credited with starting to give us a more comprehensive view of the effects of higher education on policing.

Forty-five percent of the officers surveyed had a college degree, even though 82% only require a high school degree for entry-level positions.

"Those that had the college-level education, particularly the four-year degree, they tended to have less favorable views toward the job, so job satisfaction. As well as less favorable attitudes toward their supervisors," Terrill said.

While he's planning on conducting more follow-up research to determine the reason for this, Terrill said it may be because their higher expectations don't meet the reality of the job. According to Terrill, this may be due to a focus on law enforcement and arrests, as opposed to a more community policing approach.

While this study focused on officer attitudes, Terrill's previous research analyzed behavior. "Officers that get a four-year degree are significantly less likely to rely on use of force to resolve conflict," he said. 

"If we have college-educated officers engaging in less force, than that's a positive finding," Terrill said. 

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