When I began walking the beat, I didn’t have a college education. When I went back to school and worked nights on the police department I began to understand the importance of higher education for those who police our democracy. In my book, I write about this:
It’s 1971 and I am sitting in the office of the commissioner of police in Copenhagen. My eye catches the large oil paintings high on the wall of the office. The paintings are very old, some from a century ago or longer. The commissioner, seeing my interest, says, “I see you are looking at the former commissioners of police in our city. The one over there, on your left, is Police Commissioner Romer. He was also a scientist—in fact, the first to calculate the speed of light.” He concludes, “We come from a long line of educated police leaders.”
That moment, with my own recent college education not far from my thoughts, crystallized for me the notion that if we are to have a democratic and effective police institution in our nation, it must have higher education as its foundation.”
Only a few years earlier, a national presidential commission had recommended that all police officers in our nation hold a four-year baccalaureate degree. What happened?
I write in my book.
Fifty years have passed, and today only one percent of our nation’s police departments require an applicant to hold a four-year college degree. Today, more than ever, our nation needs an educated police.
The commission made an observation that I never forgot; it has stayed with me all these years. They observed that most states require more training to become a barber than a police officer. At the time, I was struck by how strange that was. Are we more concerned as a society about how we look than how we are policed? I know the quality of a haircut is important, but so is the quality of decisions made daily by our police as they make inquiries, settle disputes, investigate crimes, and make arrests.
Isn’t it about time that we required those who wish to be our police us have, at least, a four-year college degree?