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1 Police Stud.: Int'l Rev. Police Dev. 32 (1978)
College Education for Police: The Reform That Failed

handle is hein.journals/polic1 and id is 226 raw text is: College Education for Police:
The Reform that Failed?
Lawrence W Sherman School of Criminal Justice,
State University of New York at Albany, U.S.A.

For more than half a century, American police
reformers have argued that police officers should have
a college education. In the past ten years, that
recommendation has been widely adopted. But while
college educated officers have become more common,
so has the criticism that higher education fails to
improve  police performance. The criticism  is
supported by a number of studies showing little or no
consistent differences between college educated and
non-college educated officers.
Yet the recently published report of the National
Advisory Commission on Higher Education for Police
Officers' suggests that both the critics and the
researchers have been asking the wrong questions.
Rather than looking at the differences between
individual police officers, one should ask what impact
college educated personnel generally have had and will
have on the development of policing as an institution.
Moreover, one should ask about the kind of education
police officers have been receiving, and whether it
matches the conception first held by the reformers who
recommended college education for police. When
these questions are adequately addressed, the
inescapable conclusion is not that police education is a
reform that failed, but rather that the reform has been
subverted by the conservative forces in American
The Roots of the Reform
Public concern over the low quality of police
manpower dates back at least to the ethnic power
struggles of the late nineteenth century American
cities,2 and possibly before that. Shortly after the Irish
and European immigrants had gained firm control
over urban police departments, a wave of police
reform swept the country, fueled -by the native-
American whose morality (and social position) was
challenged by the law enforcement practices of the

newly powerful immigrants.3 The reformers labelled
the police as corrupt and unworthy of theirjobs. But it
was not until after World War I in what police
historian Robert Fogelson calls the second wave of
police reform that higher education was prescribed as
the central cure for the diagnosis that the heart of the
police problem is one of personnel.4 Unlike the first
wave of reform in which aristocratic experts had
sought to impose military discipline and the scientific
management principles of F. W. Taylor5 on the police,
the second wave of reform was led by career police
officials who proposed to turn policing into a
prestigious profession. Higher education was to be the
cornerstone of that strategy.
The most influential member of the second wave of
police reformers was August Vollmer, whose own
eighth grade education did not prevent him from
becoming a prolific author and a professor at the
University of California.6 From his base as Chief of
Police in Berkeley, Vollmer served as interim reform
chief in a number of American cities and directed the
report on police of America's first national study of
crime  and   law  enforcement, the   Wickersham
Commission.7 Arriving at the beginning of the Great
Depression, this Commission's finding that 75 percent
of American policemen could not pass an Army
intelligence test8 and its recommendation that police
be better educated fell on deaf ears. Vollmer and his
colleagues did succeed in establishing a foothold for
college education on police-related subjects in some
excellent universities,9 but the graduates of these few
programs were a drop in the bucket of American
Not until the national crime wave of the late 1960's
did the recommendation that police be college
educated receive widespread support. In the context of
the double barreled criticism that the police were both
too brutal and too incompetent to control crime,
President Lyndon Johnson's crime commission
recommended that all police recruits should ultimately
hold a baccalaureate degree. 10 The idea received more
support from   almost every one of the many

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