How Education Can Be Part of the Solution
By Thomas Bashore, Adjunct Instructor in the Criminal Justice Department
Criminals are having a field day in many communities. One reason is that both large and small police departments across the United States are having a difficult time filling their open positions for police officers. There are four main causes, which include the dangerous nature of police work, budget constraints, a shrinking field of eligible candidates, and lack of education. While this may not seem like a crisis, there is one group that is sure to laud the shortages of patrol officers—criminals!
Staffing shortages in police departments mean that instead of having 10 officers patrolling a geographical area there are 7. As a result, response times to citizens’ calls for service increase. Many times, crimes such as accidents, break-ins, and shoplifting are not investigated at all. Police departments are even handling 911 calls over the phone instead of sending an officer to respond. The reason? There are just not enough officers working the streets to accomplish all the tasks. So, why are so many police chiefs finding it more and more difficult to hire qualified candidates for law enforcement positions today? In no certain order, here are several causes to this dilemma:
Cause 1: Police work is dangerous
It seems that every time you turn on the news there is someone attacking or killing multiple victims, which include police officers. Recent headlines include “Houston, Texas: 14 people stabbed at a community college;” “Jackson, Mississippi: detective killed while interviewing suspect;” and “Detroit, Michigan: 2 officers wounded—suspect killed.” While not the most dangerous job—that distinction goes to fishermen—being a police officer is still a very risky career choice. Police work ranks as the ninth most dangerous career. (Lubin & Lincoln, 2011)
Cause 2: Budget constraints
Municipal and county budgets are shrinking, thus placing a burden on public safety departments. Doing more with less is something that both the private and public sectors have had to deal with over the last several years. In addition, grant funding is becoming more difficult to secure for departments. This money is used to hire and train officers, and buy vehicles, weapons, ballistic vests, etc.
Cause 3: Lack of qualified candidates
While this reason is related in some ways to lack of education, many people are automatically disqualified from police work due to problems with their backgrounds. Poor credit ratings, drug use and/or abuse, poor driving histories, and criminal convictions all can be immediate disqualifiers for those seeking a career in law enforcement.
Cause 4: Lack of education
Finding candidates to fill police officer positions is difficult enough, but finding those with strong oral and written communications skills is even harder. Being able to shoot straight is one thing, but many police officers go their whole careers without ever firing their service weapons. On the other hand, police work involves a lot of communicating. Key skills that all would-be officers must have in their arsenals include the ability to write reports, give presentations, debate effectively, and argue persuasively. The importance of communication is even evident in the process that a candidate must go through to become a police officer. There are oral boards, psychological exams, and polygraph exams where officer candidates must be able to verbally communicate their accomplishments, philosophies, and motivations. Then there are written forms and applications, as well as scenarios in which prospective officers must be able to communicate intelligently.
If an individual wants to set themselves apart from the rest of the applicants for a police officer position they should consider furthering their education either before or after being hired. While there are many departments that do not require a degree to get in the door, almost all will require a degree to advance in rank. Having a 2-year or 4-year degree can really open doors and put candidates ahead of the pack.
Thomas “Tom” Bashore is a retired Captain from the U.S. Army Reserves. Tom has a BA in Criminology from Western Carolina University and a MA in Leadership from Bellevue University. He has taught as an Adjunct Instructor for the School of Public Safety at Kaplan University for the past 3 years. He currently serves as the Chief of Police for the Town of Nashville, NC. In addition, Tom is a certified Instructor and Hostage Negotiator…and every once in a while he shoots some boogie golf!
Gus Lubin & Kevin Lincoln (2011). The 15 Most Dangerous Jobs In America. Retreived from http://www.businessinsider.com/most-dangerous-jobs-2011-9?op=1
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Kaplan University.