Police work is more than traffic stops and paperwork. More than undercover drug buys and homicide investigations. More than sex offender checkups and DUI enforcement. A large part of law enforcement is the art of conversation. Talking and, more importantly, listening. This skill is neither simple nor innate in many of us, however, it is one of the most crucial components to community policing and effective investigating.
“I definitely feel that having good communication skills allows a person to be more professional and to be a better communicator in difficult positions that a law enforcement officer might find themselves in,” says Amy Wood, Director of Graduate and Distance Education Admissions at Tiffin University, based in Ohio. Roughly 250 students a year participate in Tiffin University’s criminal justice bachelor’s degree program.
Think of the number of people a police officer might cross paths with in a given shift. The bank robber hiding in an apartment where he’s taken a mom and two children hostage. A convenience store manager whose storefront was damaged in a hit-and-run. An angry driver pulled over for not wearing a seat belt. The collegiate rape victim. How a law enforcement officer communicates with and reacts to each one of these people will vary as widely as the technical skills he or she will use when responding. That’s why the instruction of interpersonal communication is crucial in law enforcement higher education. The FBI clarifies in this 2012 Focus on Training article, “If officers cannot communicate with the public, poor community relations will hinder even the most technically proficient departments.”
Benefits of Higher Education
Learning interpersonal skills shouldn’t be something you learn on the job; it should be a part of your core curriculum in your studies as a law enforcement officer.
“Communications is a key aspect in any academic program, especially in today’s society,” says Tiffin University’s Wood.
Attending college will give you the academic tools and real-world experiences to become an effective communicator in both verbal and written forms. Many criminal justice curriculums are specifically designed to improve officer communication skills, boost credentials and promote career advancement, and include community policing and general communication courses as part of their criminal justice degree requirements.
Speech courses can help law enforcement students feel more comfortable with public speaking, a key component to any law enforcement career. You will undoubtedly be called upon to interact with the public on a daily basis, and if you desire to progress through the ranks, your ability to speak clearly, effectively and professionally will monitored as a crucial promotion component. Additionally, your ability to write well cannot be emphasized enough. Basic skills like proper spelling and grammar can make or break your efforts to move into leadership roles, and advanced skills like composition, research, grant writing, public policy and/or instructional manuals will give you an edge over other candidates.
Today’s law enforcement officer has opportunities to advance in communications positions like public information officer, minority liaison and crisis communication manager. Nearly all of these require at least a bachelor’s degree and some are relegated to those with master’s degrees or graduate-level education. Graduate programs that include organizational, interpersonal, media relations and writing communications courses help prepare officers for these and other high-profile positions.
Finally, higher education exposes you to how the role of communication in law enforcement has changed and how this may affect what you experience on the job. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter make it easier than ever for departments and officers to communicate with the public. Conversely, social media makes it easier than ever for the public to express their opinions of the job that departments and officers are doing, and video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo routinely put officers’ communication skills, or lack thereof, on display. Pursuing higher education gives officers the information and skills needed to successfully navigate through these potential communication minefields and utilize them to their best advantage.
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For more information on how higher education can benefit your professional growth, check out Education Connect.