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The Link Between Use of Force and Education

The Link Between Use of Force and Education

Chris Uggen

Frederick Melo at The Usual Suspects commented on the high rates of advanced degrees among police officers in Minnesota. He cites a bit of the criminological research literature on the effects of higher education, but didn’t mention a new paper in Police Quarterly by Jason Rydberg and William Terrill.

I won’t belabor the methods or Project on Policing Neighborhoods data source, but I graphed the main finding above: relative to less-educated officers, those with college experience are significantly less likely to use force in police-citizen encounters.

About 56 percent of interactions with college-educated officers involved force, while about 68 percent of encounters with non-college-educated officers involved force. This relationship holds up (p < .001) in models that adjust for age, experience, suspect characteristics, and the setting of the encounter. In contrast to the use of force, defined here as “acts that threaten or inflect physical harm on citizens,” there appears to be no relationship between education and arrest or search behavior.

Even with a nice set of statistical controls, one could interpret these findings as the result of self-selection processes — that is, there might be something about the type of people who go to college (rather than the college experience itself) that results in less force by officers. Plus, force is difficult to measure and, if I’m interpreting them correctly, these levels look suspiciously high.

Nevertheless, the basic finding has now been replicated across a number of data sets and research settings. Why haven’t we required all officers to hold advanced degrees? The old arguments involve the desirability of recruiting non-degree holding, former military personnel, while the new arguments involve the desirability of recruiting a more diverse force that may not all hold degrees. The enduring argument, I suppose, involves costs: if we require all officers to have a college degree, we might have to pay officers more.

Chris Uggen is Distinguished McKnight Professor and Chair of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. He studies crime, law, and deviance. This post was originally published on his blog.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 2 years ago


    Police organizations all over the world focus on good education, training and reading and solving problems -- all of which serve to improve the public's trust and confidence in police officers. Education is the key to a successful police force, whether it's the education of the police or the education of the public related to police matters.

  • Bobble_head_max50


    about 5 years ago


    I feel that the emphasis placed on higher education is wrong because the "higher education" does not enable you to do your job better, but is simply an artificial class separation induced by the academic elitists. What I feel we need is an academic degree geared toward police. Some of the classes I took at the FBI National Academy were college level classes, but were in such things as Interview and Interrogation, Ethics, and Law. Those are things you can apply directly to the job. I have found absolutely no difference in someone's education when it comes to how smart, articulate or well-mannered an officer is.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 5 years ago


    I think this is unfair most likely college educated people spend less time in the field, also having less time having people contact. the biggest factor on abuse is the age of the police officier. Young officiers have to have good field trainers get put in a car with a bad cop thats when thing go bad, rune a good yough guy. As I read some of theses committs on some of theses sites, we most remember were here to serve and protect, some of the criminals that are acting out were victims them selfs and had no were to turn for help. I also think this country needs to revist there welfare system, drug testing has to be a most for all, if you need food stamps, housing assistance, an that being for both parents everyone has a mommy and a daddy, if we allow people to think they don't need any morals the world will not heal

  • 9433_594019119182_42109478_34956395_2579205_s_max50


    about 5 years ago


    What is the crime rates in the areas these different study groups were surveyed? Were all the officers surveyed and studied 1st, 2nd or 3rd watch? Also, were the officers less likely to have use of force that were college educated have more years on the job as other officers in the study? And of course, are the officers that are found to have less use of force reports also the officers that always seem to be last on scene to a disturbance? So many questions, not enough information in this article. Thanks for the try on this one but I think I will just print it out and use it as toliet paper instead.

  • Evil_max50


    about 5 years ago


    I think its too complicated to be able to come to this conclusion. In my personal experiences it seems the higher the education the less likely they are capable of communcating with people w/o being a condescending jerk. Which tends to set people off and in turn increases the likelihood of a use of force. Like I said its too complicated for such an easy conclusion.

  • Uniphone1_max50


    about 5 years ago


    Check1Check2, you should check YOURSELF!! Talk about an "elitist" attitude.......The bottom line is, a police department should be a reflection of it's law-abiding citizenry. That means white-collar and blue-collar type cops. We need good educated officers to keep us equipped with the best in technology and intelligence-gathering, crime-tracking abilities. However, we certainly need "grunts" out in the field addressing what has been learned through intelligence-gathering. The good thing is, one can be educated and still have the heart of a "grunt", or have little education yet highly educated.......

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 5 years ago

    This may be a good topic for a LEO Only Forum... Any opinions from fellow LEO's?

  • Elf_owl_species-micrathene-whitneyi-1_max50


    about 5 years ago


    I liked thors45's comment about "tact and grace." I wonder about the report though. Is this really about education, or about moral ethics? Is it ever NOT wrong for a man to be violent, smug, and arrogant? Columbia, Missouri's infamous (and repulsive) SWAT footage is still pretty fresh on people's minds right now...... The truth is, it don't take a PhD to cultivate decency and good character. On the other hand, the heart that cherishes contempt poisons itself.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 5 years ago


    "About 56 percent of interactions with college-educated officers involved force, while about 68 percent of encounters with non-college-educated officers involved force." What exactly is the definition of an "interaction?" I have never met an officer who uses force, reasonable or otherwise, 56 percent of the time he interacts with the public. Maybe the author should have belabored "the methods or Project on Policing Neighborhoods data source" a bit more. I need much more data to convince me that there is a 12 percent difference in uses of force incidents between officers with degrees and those without.

  • Mark_twain_and_me_max50


    about 5 years ago


    So is the study saying that college boys are afraid to get their hands dirty, and the working class guys can recognize violence and deal with it appropriately??? I mean that can be open to interpretation ya know???

  • Dirty_harry_max50


    about 5 years ago


    Amen thors45! LOL!

  • Ar15_lower_receiver_auto2_max50


    about 5 years ago


    I wonder if this data takes into consideration the fact that a lot of our college educated brothers dont seem to make it to the fight calls. Not the ones who got their degrees while working, but the ones who lived at home with mommy and went to school.


  • Photo_1_max50


    about 5 years ago


    A rectal thermometer has degrees- and you know where they stick that. Still, it does give useful information...

  • Benelli_m2a_max50


    about 5 years ago


    One should be cautious to avoid the correlation equals causation fallacy. It may just be that those with college educations tend to rise quicker through through the ranks, thereby limiting their exposer to use of force situations. Or, one should investigate the correlation between education and officers injured or killed in the line of duty, which could indicate that the more educated officers fall in to the classic FBI category of victim officers that use less force and later force than their fellows, resulting in greater risk to themselves. Or, it may be that those with a college education do legitimately use less force. It may be that they have better communication skills. A lot of more questions result from this study than any real answers.

  • Photo_1_max50


    about 5 years ago


    @ BigDawgBadge24: If you denigrate the importance of a degree, why did you bother getting several?
    It's one more dimension to the person, not the be all, end all. There's plenty of educated idiots - and plenty of uneducated idiots.
    This article reports a study with controversial results. It needs to be read and pondered, not dismissed out of hand.
    Armyag has brought up the very valued point of communication. Tact & grace has been missing at all levels in our org.

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