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The Importance of Continuing Education for Cops

The Importance of Continuing Education for Cops

Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith

When I became a cop in 1980 many of the veteran officers made fun of the new recruits who had college degrees. We heard things like “What are you going to do in that bar fight, Rookie, hit ‘em with your diploma?!” And to be honest, at the time I really didn’t see how my four year degree in “Law Enforcement Administration” was going to be particularly helpful either. Higher education wasn’t going to help me learn how to shoot, how to fight, or how to catch bad guys…or was it?

Putting Pen to Paper

The reality of law enforcement is that we use our pens and our laptops far more than we ever use of guns. While firearms proficiency may save our life someday on the street, the ability to put words on paper in a cohesive and comprehendible manner may someday save our butt in court, or at least make our day to day existence as a crimefighter easier. All those term papers and essay tests you slaved over in college will make completing the narrative on that residential burglary report so much easier. Defense attorneys often defend a case based on the quality of the police report, including the officer’s ability to document his or her investigation, the defendant’s actions, and the elements of the offenses charged. A prosecutor may decide not to take an otherwise airtight case because the police reports are substandard. The judge, the defense attorney and the prosecutor all have higher education, should you?

There is Something To Be Said for “Life Experience”

Thirty or more years ago the majority of cops came from the ranks of the armed forces. Military veterans generally made great police recruits not only because they were accustomed to rank structure, shift work and the handling of various weapons, but most of them had spent time in the military traveling, dealing with difficult situations, witnessing tragedy and hardship, and working well under adverse conditions. Most veterans of the armed services also come to police work with an inherent sense of service to the community and to the country; a welcome attitude in any police department. While college certainly cannot be compared to a tour in the Army (or the Navy, Air Force, Marines, or the Coast Guard) college certainly helps prepare you for dealing with deadlines, bosses, and difficult co-workers; it can also teach you how to deal with bureaucracy, live on your own, and make decisions that have long-term consequences. The military encourages their personnel to pursue advanced degrees, so it makes sense that law enforcement should adopt similar standards.

The Degree is More Important Than the Major

My college degree is in law enforcement, and yet I tell everyone I talk to who is considering police work as a career to get a degree in anything other than law enforcement or criminal justice. Those degrees can be helpful, but when deciding on your field of study, go with your interests. I know cops who have degrees in engineering, nursing, accounting, physical therapy, education, even astronomy! Don’t take college classes just to enhance yourself as a police candidate, but rather to enhance yourself as a long-term employee. A degree in physical education or coaching is going to make you one heck of a defensive tactics instructor some day. Studying algebra, geometry and physics is going to make you unbeatable as an accident reconstructionist. Taking classes in management, psychology and human performance will increase your chances of becoming a good supervisor or a manager. Cops need to know a lot about so many things, and a liberal arts degree may give you a great base to continue your training and education after you get that gun and badge. The legendary Admiral James Stockdale believed that the better your education the better you would be at dealing with the difficulty. This after spending 10 years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and observing both how his fellow prisoners and how he dealt with the stress of torture, solitary confinement and betrayal.

Continuing Your Education While You Serve

One of the few bright spots in this economy is that more and more colleges and universities are offering convenient ways to continue your education while you work, raise your family, and even have a little fun on the side. Many colleges have intensive programs that don’t follow a traditional “semester” schedule, others offer classes during non-traditional hours, and the online educational opportunities, like the University of Phoenix, are practically endless! Our oldest son, who is currently enlisted as a Naval corpsman, is finishing his college degree via the Internet so regardless of his future deployment, he can complete his education. There are also a number of colleges who offer degree programs specifically for first responders, and many of those give “live experience” credit hours for some of your law enforcement training and experience. Many colleges offer financial aid, and many police agencies provide tuition reimbursement, so do some research and take advantage of these programs while you can!

One of the first great detectives was the mythical Sherlock Holmes who combined his tremendous ability to observe with his broad and in-depth knowledge of things both mundane and exceptional to come to critical conclusions about evidence, suspects, and investigations in general. In this case fiction lead the way to many of the techniques used today, but the human component of an individual who constantly seeks to learn and understand the world around him or her is one of the great traits of almost every outstanding investigator, agent, and leader in law enforcement.


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    carlos6112

    7 months ago

    2 Comments

    Police officers, also known as peace officers, are individuals tasked with the responsibility of enforcing laws. Individuals interested in law enforcement careers must fulfill a minimum amount of education and training, including the completion of a police academy program. next

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    muse_ali

    about 1 year ago

    4 Comments

    I am looking for colleges in Arizona and I want to have a quality teacher. For years, people thought the number of students per teacher was the most important factor in learning. Then educators focused on the size of schools. Now, more and more research shows that teacher quality matters most. But what makes a good teacher?

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    marbianco2012

    about 1 year ago

    10 Comments

    I am continuing education online and I want to know more about the training methods used in the Academy. Online education is more convenient for me, but I don't want to miss out the important parts of a well organized training. Theory is important, but practice is what makes us better.

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    TreeHugger719

    over 1 year ago

    464 Comments

    School is for fools.............

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    denesstu

    over 1 year ago

    10 Comments

    The public in my opinion would recognize and appreciate a well spoken, educated officer-especially in the larger cities. It's a better image for that city and its career choices. A four year college degree (liberal arts) most of the time will produce quicker and more reasonable decisions. A degree would tend to produce an officer with disciplined thinking processes.

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    caracola213

    over 1 year ago

    4 Comments

    And if you do continue your education while you serve, do you actually get enough sleep? Because I have friends who are doing both things in the same time and they always complain that they are always tired.

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    APD108

    over 4 years ago

    76 Comments

    I think that it never hurts to get a higher education. Many of the Police academies where I live are finally linking up with colleges so that the courses you take in the police academy can be applied towards a criminal justice degree. I will probably start out with an associates degree in Criminal Justice and then get my four year degree in psychology, with a minor in a foreign language. I will of course have to do most of this online due to working, but there are many resources available out there to accomplish this goal. Good luck to all.

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    hjdelgado

    over 4 years ago

    2 Comments

    The South Brunswick Police Department in cooperation with Fairleigh Dickinson University will be offering four college courses, two graduate courses and two undergraduate courses, at our on-site training facility. This cooperation between the South Brunswick Police Department and the University will offer a unique opportunity to our members to seek the completion of an undergraduate degree or a graduate degree right here at our facility.

    Other Program highlights;

    • Flexible Curriculum – focused on developing the managerial skills of experienced professionals.
    • A 50% tuition scholarship available.
    • Adjunct faculty of highly experienced practitioners.
    • 12 – Week terms or 5 consecutive Saturdays, 4 terms a year, September, January, April, and June.
    • Step-in, Step-out flexibility (i.e. courses are not in a rigid sequence with pre-requisites).
    • Advanced standing (transfer credits) for graduates of NJ Certified Public Manager Program, Command and Leadership Program, Certified Public Finance Officer, among others.

    An Open House hosted by the South Brunswick Police Department and Fairleigh Dickinson University will be held on Thursday December 17, 2009 between the hours of 2:00PM and 5:00PM in the Training Room.

    FDU staff will review transcripts, training for advanced standing, and registration.

    Listed below are the courses scheduled for the spring 2010.

    GRADUATE COURSES: Master of Administrative Science Degree (MAS)
    South Brunswick Police Department - Monmouth Junction
    Please note class times: weekdays, 6:15 pm – 9:30 pm & Saturdays, 8:30 am – 4:30 pm
    MADS 6620.83 Human Resource Systems; Approaches & Techniques for the Modern Workplace
    E. KOVACS
    Tuesdays,
    Jan. 12 – Mar.30
    MADS 6709.85 Special Topics: Creativity, Change & 21st Century Leaders W. TOMS Saturdays, 5 weeks
    Feb. 20 – Mar. 20

    UNDERGRADUATE COURSES: Bachelor of Arts in Individualized Studies (BAIS) Program
    South Brunswick Police Department - Monmouth Junction
    Please note class times: 6:15 pm – 9:30 pm
    PADM 4400.E6 Seminar on Leadership Development R. CALISSI Saturdays, 5 weeks
    Jan. 9 – Feb. 6
    COMM 2101.E5 Professional Communication STAFF
    Tuesdays,
    Jan. 12 – March 30

    For additional information you may contact;

    Captain Harry J. Delgado
    South Brunswick Police
    732-329-4000 ext 7497
    hdelgado@sbtnj.net

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    Anonymous

    about 5 years ago

    chrisiacono, I have chosen to major in CJ because of my interest in LE,but I am certainly interested in many other things-I just have a hard time committing myself and majoring in them. Most academies and departments want at least an associates degree which is 60 credits-you can major in ANYTHING-just make sure you have 60 credits.
    You don't have to major in CJ. In some ways I think it hinders you from choosing another career if LE doesn't work out. If LE doesn't work out for you and you don't get hired by any dept., what will you do with your LE degree?

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    Anonymous

    over 5 years ago

    Clearly, many of the other members here feel that getting additional education is the "smart" thing to do. My career started in 1979 but even before then I was getting the advice from an older cop (my father) that the future was going to demand that we in law enforcement attain higher than a HS Diploma. As the years went by I saw that what he had said was certainly true so off to the classes I went. Like many here, I took a number of classes while working rotatting shifts. It has paid off! There is no doubt that if I hadn't spent the time and energy getting the sheapskin, I wouldn't have had the career that I care so much about. That education goes a long way in defending our statement that we are "professionals!" I continually encourage those that I speak with who are considering this field to get that education. Failure to do so limits a candidate in so many ways. I guess it goes w/o saying that I am a strong advocate for expanding the brain power and am very encouraged to see so many here that are in the same frame of mind.
    Please stay safe.

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    deputyroark

    over 5 years ago

    196 Comments

    Knowledge is Power

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    Deacon_Snuffy

    over 5 years ago

    56 Comments

    It only makes good sense to continue learning whenever possible. If not the job and possible promotions will pass you by.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Anonymous

    over 5 years ago

    We have several Houston area police departments that are moving towards all of their officers being degreed.....I dont think its a bad thing at all. I like the idea of cops coming with degrees in Psych, Intelligence, Terrorism Studies, Criminal Intelligence, Criminal Justice...etc etc

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    chrisiacono

    over 5 years ago

    6 Comments

    Not to sound like an jerk, but you could just get really good grades in HS and receive a full scholarship to college like it did!

  • Veteransadm_small_square_max50

    amrote

    over 5 years ago

    652 Comments

    I am a huge advocate of secondary education as well as advance LE training courses. We have to blend education with advanced training (our career is in a constant change). Just because someone has a college degree does not mean they will be a good cop however; a good cop who invests in themselves will go a long way. When I got out of the Air Force I took a job for a college police department and it was the best job I ever had. Not only did it allow me to pursue my civilian LE career, but it afforded me the opportunity to begin college. The pay was not the best, but my education was FREE. Sometimes we have to make financial sacrifices for the success of our future. Once again, an excellent article by Betsy.

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