These are difficult days for law enforcement. Recent events have ignited a polarized debate about public safety issues and placed police under intense scrutiny, while ubiquitous recording devices and social media provide an unprecedented platform for second-guessing their actions. As officers work to address public perceptions, foster community trust and adjust to the rapidly changing nature of 21st-century law enforcement — all while continuing their mission to protect and serve — maintaining high professional standards has never been more crucial. One of the most beneficial tools in this effort is education. Studies indicate that police officers who have earned college degrees demonstrate better overall job performance, with greater problem-solving skills, significantly fewer uses of force, lower discipline and citizen complaint rates, reduced on-the-job injuries, more advancement opportunities, and a host of other advantages that can help build confidence and command respect in these troubled times.
For better or worse, the public is demanding more from law enforcement than ever before. Police today play multiple roles and are expected to understand a wide range of sociological, psychological and legal issues; deal with people from many different cultural and economic backgrounds; and be proficient in new technologies. Higher education can equip officers to meet these increasingly complex requirements. In addition to building your expertise in your chosen field, pursuing a degree exposes you to new concepts, provides a broad base of knowledge in a variety of areas, enhances research and computer skills, and demonstrates that you have the expertise to adapt in the evolving world of modern law enforcement.
The growing national dialogue about how to build better relationships between police and the neighborhoods they protect has renewed the focus on community-oriented policing. With its emphasis on proactively addressing public safety issues through community partnerships, this strategy involves more officer initiative and accountability than traditional models. The components of successful community policing are the very qualities that higher education aims to develop — including effective interpersonal and written communication skills, critical thinking and decision making, creativity and innovation. At a time when the spotlight seems to be fixed on law enforcement, those who can handle challenging situations with assurance and judgment are especially valuable assets to their departments and communities. No matter what program you choose, studying at the college level helps you hone the essential skills to project a competent and professional image, cooperate productively to solve difficult problems, and better serve the public.
While there are a wealth of options available to make education more accessible and convenient for working adults, pursuing a degree still takes commitment and hard work. Undertaking this effort shows openness to change, desire to grow and passion for what you do. Now more than ever, these characteristics are critically important. As law enforcement members are called upon to uphold their professionalism in the face of criticism and increased monitoring, education provides a clear path to demonstrate a dedication to excellence.
For more information about how education can help you succeed, and to learn about programs designed especially for law enforcement officers, visit Education Connect.