Police Education

Posted on April 14, 2021

Education: How Departments Can Leverage an educated workforce

Police reform is now a household term. In Massachusetts, the Legislature enacted a police reform bill grafting significant changes and oversight on police officers. What is missing from the conversation and legislation on police reform is a mandate for educational incentives tied to pay incentives. In Massachusetts, pay and education are unevenly tethered across police departments. Education incentives have led and will continue to lead to a well-trained, well-qualified, respectful and diverse police force.

National studies highlight the positive impact that postsecondary education has on policing (1). While consistent quantitative evidence on the impact of higher education on policing is lacking (2), there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of the benefits to requiring at least some postsecondary education for prospective officers (3). College educated police officers tend to be better report writers, possess better communication skills and a better understanding of civil rights and constitutional issues, receive fewer civilian complaints and disciplinary actions, and harbor attitudes that are less authoritarian (4), and are less likely to use force or fire their duty weapon (5). One extensive data study found that officers with even “some college exposure” were less likely to use force than those without any college experience (6). Educated officers also tend to take fewer days off, buttressing the statistical advantage behind the popular theory that more officers on the street can actually lead to less crime (7). Educated police officers also tend to enforce the law more aggressively and the research suggests that they tend to respond to the traditional reward structure (8). Fewer complaints and instances of use of force will undoubtedly result in less costly litigation. In short, although college educated officers may be more expensive, the cost savings down the line indicates that the investment in educated police officers would be well worth these costs (9).

The State Police Association of Massachusetts (a Butters Brazilian client), police leadership and the citizenry of Massachusetts have long supported educated officers. Others support a post-secondary degree requirement to enter the field, and certain educational requirements for promotion to certain positions (10). While criminal justice degrees seem obvious, chiefs express the need for officers with degrees in sociology, psychology, foreign languages, and computer science (11). This is no different than the recruitment goals of the FBI (12). Casting a wider net beyond just a criminal justice degree can mitigate concerns about such a small pool to choose from while also bringing in officers with more comprehensive understandings of civil rights, mental illness, social groups, and community issues.

In February of 2021, Senator Michael Rush and Representatives Timothy Whelan and Sean Garballey filed bills (SD.746 and HD.1447) in their respective houses of the Massachusetts Legislature to uniformly mandate educational incentives for police officers. These bills, if enacted, would attract and retrain an educated and diverse workforce consistent with the public’s desires and police chiefs’ needs.

Leveraging the Promotional Aspirations of Educated Officers To Improve Internal Culture

Unsurprisingly, organizations benefit from employees that are motivated and aspiring (13). Studies on this phenomenon in police officers show that the level of education is one factor that impacts an officer’s level of promotional aspiration (14). Promotional aspirations and organizational incentive structures are intricately intertwined as adhering to the latter helps the prospects of promotion. Officers that value promotions will adhere to department policies, standards, and incentive structures (15). If leveraged correctly this combination can help overhaul the internal culture and habits of police departments.

Revisions to the incentive structure can set new expectations on officer behavior (16). An incentive structure that includes hours of community engagement can also play a vital role in increasing trust in minority communities, a critical component of good policing (17). Supervisors can encourage officers to attend Black church services, Little League games, pick-up basketball, youth groups, addiction recovery programs, women’s shelters, town hall meetings, and provide professional incentives to do so. The department-endorsed volunteer and community officer excursions may also be entirely possible while on the clock. Many officers have significant “downtime” while on shifts that can be devoted to these pursuits (18). Association members are engaged in this activity already.

Cadet Programs, ROTC, and Junior Programs

The Police Academy at Northern Essex Community College and the Police Certification Concentration at Fitchburg State University devote training and programs to those passionate about becoming police officers (19). Boston PD’s Cadet Program is a two-year program offering paid positions to young civilians aspiring to be police officers. The program focuses on introducing cadets to the work and the culture while giving them on the job training (20). Cadet programs can aim directly at recruiting young women and minorities; in fact former Mayor Marty Walsh praised BPD’s 2019 cadet class that was half minority and half women (21). The retention rate of the most recent graduating BPD cadet class saw 21 of 35 graduates go on to become sworn officers with significant practical experience under their belt. Former Police Commissioner William Gross and his predecessor William Evans are alums of Cadet programs. Similarly, other departments around the country have partnered with local community colleges to build ROTC-like programs geared towards budding officers, even offering $10,000 total over the course of the three-year program to qualified applicants (22). Still others have implemented Junior Police Academies for youths aged 14-17 that offer instruction on Saturdays (23).

The State Police is beginning its own cadet program with the support of the State Police Association of Massachusetts. Without care, educational and diversity goals may be pitted against one another. That can be avoided. When educational requirements are heightened, fewer minority may candidates apply (24). A few solutions could help. First, a department can and should help to fund education while on the job. Many employers do this. Second, departments can hire applicants that have not yet completed their degree by conditioning their continued employment on the officer completing their degree in a set timeframe. Cadet programs and ROTC programs in local high schools can increase the morale of minority applicants, generate interest and identify those with real interest in becoming good police officers. Significantly, we know that some of the best education is experiential. The completion of these types of programs can also fulfill an educational requirement should one ultimately be established. Starting recruitment early can also help bring in more diverse and educated officers.

So much great police work is overshadowed by the bad. The bad is far less frequent, but receives far more attention through the amplification of traditional and social media. Law enforcement must shine line on its own good work and make connections with young people.

The State Police Association of Massachusetts has a dedicated Director of Community Engagement to lead these efforts and help police officers with the people they police. Changing the setting of police engagement from a car stop to a classroom makes lasting impressions and ties together policing, education and developing diverse officers of the future.

Written By Patrick Hanley and Kit Metoyer



  1. See Wash. D.C.: Office of Cmty. Oriented Policing Servs., Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (2015), at 51 [hereinafter President’s Final Report]. See, e.g., Lane Glenn, et al., Police, Protestors Finding Common Ground, CommonWealth (June 13, 2020),
  2. Jason Rydberg & William Terrill, The Effect of Higher Education on Police Behavior, 13 Police Quarterly 1, 92, 113 (2010).
  3. Chuck Russo & Kevin Duffy, Do Cops Need a College Education?, Police & Security News, (Jan. 28, 2020), (discussing a 2006 report by USA Today that found officers with just a high school education were the subjects of 75% of all disciplinary actions over the course of a five-year study).
  4. See Rydberg & Terrill, supra note 2, at 93.
  5. See Rydberg & Terrill, supra note 2, at 92.
  6. See Rydberg & Terrill, supra note 2, at 110 (finding that while arrest and search rates are not impacted by an officer’s level of education, the use of force rate is considerably lower among cops with some post-secondary education) (emphasis added).
  7. Matthew Yglesias, The Case for Hiring More Police Officers, Vox, (Feb. 13, 2019, 9:00 AM), (discussing how the presence of police officers deters crime and reduces the need to make arrests).
  8. Richard Wright, et al., College-Educated Cops Enforce the Law More Aggressively, Conversation, (Nov. 26, 2018, 6:37 AM),
  9. Rebecca Everett, Should N.J. Cops Go to College? Research Shows That Educated Cops Use Less Force,, (June 29, 2020), (indicating that because more educated cops tend to use less force, departments can avoid costly excessive force lawsuits).
  10. Brian Lee, Paying By Degrees: Towns Take Different Approaches to Police Education Incentives, Telegram, (Feb. 20, 2015, 4:18 PM), (discussing police salary incentives and promotional requirements tied to an officer’s education level as seen in cities including Southbridge, Webster, Millbury, and West Boylston).
  11. (Eric Kelderman, Can Higher Education Fix America’s Policing Problem?, Chronicle of Higher Education, (July 1, 2020), (cautioning that a “typical criminal-justice degree has ‘little impact on police behavior’” because they can be too broad and that courses in other fields should be emphasized as well).
  12. (FBI, STEM and the FBI Recruiting the Best and Brightest,, (Nov. 8, 2017), (praising the FBI’s recruiting unit that specifically focuses on recruiting individuals with cyber skills).
  13. Jacinta M. Gau, et al., Explaining Police Promotional Aspirations, 40 Crim. Just. & Behavior 3, 247, 258 (2013) (finding that “officers with some college experience are significantly more likely to covet promotion”) (emphasis added).
  14. Gau, et al., supra note 13, at 247.
  15. Gau, et al., supra note 13, at 258.
  16. Gau et al., supra note 13.
  17. President’s Final Report, supra note 1, at 1.
  18. Christine N. Famega, Variations in Officer Downtime: A Review of the Research, 28 Policing: An Int’l J. Police Strategies & Mgmt. 3, 401 (2005) (according to a study of two dozen departments, downtime, defined as time not responding to civilian calls and service, made up an average of 70% of an officer’s shift).
  19. Sean Philip Cotter, Walsh Touts Police Cadet Program as New Half-Female, Half-Minority Class Starts, Boston Herald, (July 3, 2019, 4:32 PM),
  20. Police Cadet Program, Brochure,, (2019),
  21. Cotter, supra note 19.
  22. E.g., Roger Chesley, Police Chiefs Need Officers and Diverse Pool of Recruits, Virginian-Pilot, (Aug. 17, 2013),
  23. Id.
  24. Mensah M. Dean Critics Decry Move to Eliminate College Requirement for City Cops, Philadelphia Inquirer, (May 9, 2016),

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