“Weighing in on a long-simmering dispute, a recent study for the Police Quarterly shows that officers with some college education are less likely to resort to force than those who never attend college.
“The study found no difference with respect to officer education when it came to arrests or searches of suspects. But it found that in encounters with crime suspects, officers with some college education or a four-year degree resorted to using force 56 percent of the time, while officers with no college education used force 68 percent of the time (my emphasis).
“’Force’ included verbally threatening suspects, grabbing or punching them, using mace or pepper spray, hitting suspects with a baton, handcuffing, throwing to the ground, or pointing or firing a gun at them.
“’Up until now, the studies have been much more anecdotal, indicating that education may matter,’ said William Terrill, an associate professor of criminal justice at Michigan State and a co-author of the study. ‘We found that a college education significantly reduces the likelihood of force occurring (my emphasis). The difference is real. It truly is because the officer was more educated, not because the suspect was more resistant.’
“Arrests, searches and the use of force are the ‘big three’ decision-making points for police officers. The Michigan State study was the first to look simultaneously at all three vis-à-vis officer education. It found that education did not make much difference when it came to arrests and searches, confirming a number of other studies in the field. Arrests and searches are more constrained by law than the use of force.
“’There’s so much more discretion with the use of force and more room for biases to play out,’ Terrill said. ‘High-school educated officers are more apt to say, ‘I’m the law and I have the authority to make you do it, and I’m going to put my hands on you and make you do it.’ Officers with a four-year degree are more skilled at resolving problems without having to resort to force. They’re giving the citizen alternative means of compliance. They’re not just relying on the stick.’
“The schooling of police officers has been the subject of debate in the U.S. since the early 1900s, when only one of every 10 officers graduated from high school. Since the 1930s, several high-profile national commissions have since recommended that departments consider higher education as a requirement for employment as a way to ‘professionalize’ the police force and improve its public image….
“Yet police departments have been slow to change. As reported in a Bureau of Justice Statistics study from 2003, 83 percent of all U.S. police agencies require a high school diploma, but only 8 percent require some college. Only 1 percent of police agencies require a four-year college degree..
“’Irrespective of experience, college is going to give you bang for the buck right out of the gate… By having an education, you’re actually speeding up the process of experience and you’re getting the effect of better policing in the form of less force (my emphasis).'”
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