Could college requirement reduce police misconduct?

(NewsNation) — People are seeking solutions to police abuse after authorities released multiple videos last week showing Memphis officers brutally beating Tyre Nichols, who died three days after the incident.

During an appearance on NewsNation’s “CUOMO” on Friday night, former New York City Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly had an idea for reducing police abuses.

“I’ve always said that I think the biggest change — the biggest long-term change that can be implemented in policing — is to require a four-year college degree for all police officers,” he said. “You can’t go anywhere in America, find a grade school teacher who doesn’t have a college degree. But I think the education level of police officers is way too low.”

Criminologist Thaddeus Johnson — formerly a Memphis police officer — was part of a research group that looked at officers in the Baltimore Police Department, and found a significant difference in police shootings based on the officer’s education level.

Officers who had at least some college education were 8-10% less likely to be involved in police shootings compared to officers without a college education.

But they didn’t see any effect on other important outcomes like involvement in violent arrests or whether they had been assaulted.

In a separate study Johnson conducted looking at 200 cities from 2000 to 2016, police agencies that adopted college degree requirements had lower rates of African Americans and unarmed people killed by police than those without such requirements.

“What we’re seeing in this research is that perhaps education really only matters in these most fraught situations and is a tool that can possibly save [lives], but it’s not a magic bullet for reducing all the other issues that we see in policing,” he said.

Johnson did, however, offer some caution about implementing degree requirements.

“If you move towards that, you have to also make sure you provide opportunities for officers who are not educated to be further educated because then it can work against them when it comes to promotion and opportunities,” he said.

Johnson also noted higher education levels mean agencies will need to increase pay to recruit well-educated officers.

As far as the officers charged in the Nichols case, Johnson suggested the way their approach was flawed from the start.

“At the very beginning, had they used correct officer tactics, verbal commands, explained to him what they were doing, treated him civilly … it wouldn’t have … probably gone that far,” he said.


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