Are Older Or College Educated Cops Better At Policing?

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Do older or college-educated cops perform better than their counterparts?

Because thousands of officers are leaving policing, and with plummeting recruitment, are we hiring anyone with basic qualifications?

Many believe that cops are underpaid and insufficiently trained and equipped. Are governments simply too cheap to do what’s right?


As a 21-year-old rookie, I was told there was nothing more dangerous than a young cop. It was a warning to be judicious.

I thought about that as I pushed my cruiser to the limit of my 140 miles per hour speedometer on the beltway at 3:00 a.m. It was a clear night with no traffic and I told myself that, sooner or later, I would have to do this in the pursuit of my duties, specifically, a fellow officer in trouble.

Today, I see it as a stupid and unnecessary move.

There was another time where we surrounded a robbery suspect in a phone booth. He didn’t know we were there. The other (wiser) officers wanted to wait for a K-9 unit. I got impatient and rushed the phone both, kicked in the door, and took the suspect into custody. My fellow officers told me that patience was a virtue and my youth and impulsivity was going to get me killed.

Christian Science Monitor (direct quotes rearranged for brevity)

Few police agencies in the United States require rookie officers to hold a college degree to join the force. The status quo persists even as an ample body of research suggests that college-educated officers use force less often and face fewer public complaints and disciplinary actions than those without a bachelor’s degree.

In California, where existing law allows an 18-year-old with a high school diploma or its equivalent to pursue a police career, a state lawmaker aims to raise the hiring bar. Assembly Member Reggie Jones-Sawyer has introduced a bill that would require new officers to either earn a four-year degree or turn 25 years old before they could carry a gun and badge.

The Democrat from Los Angeles, who leads the Assembly’s public safety committee, has called his measure an attempt to ensure the hiring of “only those officers capable of high-level decision-making and judgment in tense situations.” The bill refers to neurological studies showing that young people’s cognitive development – including in the areas of the brain governing impulse control and working memory – continues into the mid-20s.

A 2017 report on the effects of higher education on policing offers a different perspective on the bill’s potential value. The study surveyed more than 950 law enforcement agencies across the country that serve areas ranging in population from less than 2,500 to more than 1 million.

The research suggests that the lower rates of use of force among college-educated officers – and the smaller number of liability lawsuits filed against them – can enhance the reputation of police in disadvantaged and minority communities. Related studies have shown that police officers with college degrees more readily embrace new approaches to the job – including community policing and procedural justice – that could further repair the profession’s image.

Christian Science Monitor

Cops Leaving

Is there hard data suggesting that cops are leaving the job in numbers that could affect public safety? Beyond a survey stating that recruitment is down 63 percent, no, there isn’t. But it seems like a daily ritual to read articles about police staffing problems throughout the country.

America is going through a lot right now. From the recent disgraceful storming of the Capitol resulting in the horrific deaths of Capitol Police officers to protests-riots-looting resulting in two billion dollars in insurance claims Riot Insurance Claims to rising violent crime and fear of crime Crime in the US to the pandemic to lack of trust in government Pew to endless questions about the accuracy and reliability of the media Columbia Journalism Review, institutions seem to be failing us.

At least we can count on cops to come to our aid when warranted, right?

After all, policing in America is one of our most trusted institutions ranking much higher than most, including Congress and the media. When adding all three categories in a recent Gallup poll, a great deal of confidence, quite a lot, and some, 81 percent expressed a level of confidence in law enforcement. As to a great deal of confidence, law enforcement did better than most institutions, Gallup Via Crime in America.

But, as stated, cops are leaving in record numbers and recruitment is down considerably. Deaths are sharply up due to COVID and crime. The negative media (some of it deserved) is unrelenting. Suicide, substance abuse, and psychological problems abound.

Considering the massive and negative (often unfair) media stories, families are insisting that cops get out, and to get out now.

The only hope to fill vacancies is to bring in more young cops.

Cops Leaving


States and local governments are massively hurting right now due to the impact of COVID on the economy. To get college-educated cops, or to get experienced people, you are, quite simply, going to pay them more.

How Many Cops Have College Degrees Now?

About one third (30.2 percent) of police officers in the United States have a four-year college degree. A little more than half (51.8 percent) have a two-year degree, while 5.4 percent have a graduate degree. Those numbers don’t include those currently working on college degrees on a part-time basis.

Police Foundation


First, the great majority of officers do not have four-year college degrees yet they have produced one of the most respected institutions in America, ranking much higher than Congress and the media. Per the public via numerous polls, most officers are respected, Cops And Crime.

Yes, law enforcement has issues that need to be addressed but it remains the first line of defense for citizens, and they understand the need for cops, especially during a time of exploding violence, US Crime Rates.

Second, with thousands leaving the profession and with recruitment down 63 percent, it seems that we have no choice but to hire anyone passing the basic entrance tests, regardless of age or education.

Third, those with related work experience or a college degree will have to be paid more, and jurisdictions can’t afford the expenditures because of COVID and a declining tax base.

But if you search “police officers and college degrees” and look at the data, and if you review the research indicating that “older” people make better decisions than their younger counterparts, a starting age of 25 and recruiting those with college degrees makes sense.

It’s my opinion that society demands the impossible of cops (echoed by President Obama) and mistakes are ridiculously easy to make when you have seconds to decide in unbelievably intense and complex situations.

So recruiting people with the life skills or education necessary to make instant and complex decisions should be a priority.

However, I see no indication that government is willing to pay what’s necessary to bring on the best possible people and to train them well. As much as I respect law enforcement, we have a history of minimum requirements, insufficient training, and an unwillingness to equip officers properly. For example, how many use of force situations could have been resolved peacefully if the responding officers had the right support, equipment and enhanced training?

Cops are leaving. They will probably be replaced by inexperienced people because it’s what we can afford.

President Biden has plans to remedy poverty, often in high crime areas. Without experienced officers, he doesn’t have a chance in hades of accomplishing this without good, experienced cops. No one will move to or invest in areas deemed dangerous to families and employees.

Thus the issue isn’t one of experienced or declining cops, it’s a national security concern on many levels. I wonder if Capitol Hill officers thought they had sufficient riot training or the right equipment or staffing to deal with the recent breach? I’m fairly sure that they would tell you they didn’t.

A starting salary of $50,000 and six months of basic training plus a month of enhanced instruction yearly would be a good start.

Making sure that officers have the equipment they need to safely end potentially violent situations should be a priority. My favorite device is a wrap that incapacitates, BBC.

Additional options are available at The Marshall Project.

Issues in policing are far more complex than a matter of “bad” cops. It’s more about making sure we have the best possible people properly paid, trained, and equipped.

See More

See more articles on crime and justice at Crime in America.

Most Dangerous Cities/States/Countries at Most Dangerous Cities.

US Crime Rates at Nationwide Crime Rates.

National Offender Recidivism Rates at Offender Recidivism.

The Crime in America.Net RSS feed ( provides subscribers with a means to stay informed about the latest news, publications, and other announcements from the site.

My book based on thirty-five years of criminal justice public relations,” Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization” available at Amazon

Reviews are appreciated

Leonard Sipes

Leonard Sipes

Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Former Adjunct Associate Professor of criminology and public affairs-University of Maryland, University College. Former advisor to presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. Former advisor to the “McGruff-Take a Bite Out of Crime” national media campaign. Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. Aspiring drummer.Contact: [email protected]

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