In an effort to embrace constructive reform, the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) and California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA) recently released a proposal to comprehensively raise the educational and training requirements for peace officers in California over the next 10 years. The joint statement asserted that the new qualifications would help prepare new officers with “training and education standards that meet the needs, requirements and expectations of the modern police force, while recruiting a diverse and talented pool of prospective officers who can achieve those standards.”
It is part of what PORAC President Brian Marvel said will help to facilitate “a culture shift” not only within police ranks but in how officers are viewed by the public.
To truly improve public safety outcomes and restore trust in law enforcement, the proposal provides a roadmap to adapting a holistic approach to recruit, train, educate and retain the best officers for the job.
The proposal also cited studies and research that conclude higher education leads to fewer disciplinary actions and a decrease in uses of force. In addition, research indicates that college graduates early in their careers perform at a similar level as police veterans with 10 years on the job.
According CPCA President Eric Nuñez, the higher education standard puts entry-level cops “in the best possible position to serve their communities in the way their communities want to be served,” reported NBC Los Angeles.
Currently, California requires recruits to complete 685 hours of academy training, which critics complain falls far short of the standards for less critical professions — for example, the state requires 1,600 hours of training for a cosmetology license, reports news site The Hill.
The two law enforcement organizations agree that the 685 hours required by academy training does not cover the mandated training required by the Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission (POST) and all the new legislative requirements that have been passed in recent years.
California is one of several states to only require a high school diploma for police officers, though there are incentives for people with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. CPCA’s survey of other states’ education requirements shows that some states require more education, like North Dakota and Illinois, which both require a bachelor’s degree or associate’s degree with work experience. However, more than half of U.S. states (30 out of 50) only require a high school diploma.
Under the PORAC/CPCA proposal, potential hires would have to complete courses on subjects that will help to better prepare them for the rigors and adversities inherent to modern-day policing, such as mental health, social services, psychology, communication and more. High school graduates could continue to serve if they pursue the additional education.
Police unions from San Jose, San Francisco and Los Angeles issued a joint response that both indicates support of higher education and expresses concern that the mandate would present a barrier to people of color, veterans and other individuals for whom college is not affordable.
PORAC and CPCA pointed out the proposal would establish a recruitment task force to promote law enforcement careers among students as a means to develop a more diverse talent pipeline and goes even further by creating a new Statewide Law Enforcement Education Fund that would provide financial support toward a higher education degree for individuals who commit to pursuing a law enforcement career. The organizations plan to collaborate with community colleges and university systems in the future to construct a degree specific to law enforcement based on the bachelor’s degree in nursing model.
The week after the joint proposal was released, California Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer pursued further action by introducing the Peace Officer Education and Age Conditions for Employment Act, or PEACE Act, which would require new police recruits and prison guards to be at least 25 years old or have a bachelor’s degree. “Excessive force at the hands of law enforcement that leads to grave injury or death not only tears apart families and communities but erodes trust in law enforcement,” Jones-Sawyer told KTLA. “My community, like many others, is all too familiar with police violence and physical force.”
Current law requires officers be at least 20 ½ years old and have a high school diploma or equivalent. While PORAC and CPCA agree in principle that we need to raise the bar with increased recruitment, training and education standards, the two organizations are concerned that the absence of a supplemental funding mechanism, as with the PEACE Act, would preclude young people who may not have the financial resources to pursue a college degree from starting their career in law enforcement and gaining crucial on-the-job experience.
“We must do more to show the value of a career in law enforcement as an honorable profession worthy of pursuing for all of California’s youth, regardless of their background, race or financial status. Recruiting the next generation of peace officers is step one,” the PORAC/CPCA report said.
To learn more, you can view the PORAC and CPCA joint press conference on their proposal at https://youtu.be/VfRUI8pZtbw.
As seen in the January 2021 issue of American Police Beat magazine.
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