How Arlington VA Improved Police Professionalism through College Education Requirements (Part 1)

  • How Arlington VA Improved Police Professionalism through College Education Requirements (Part 1)
In this first edition of the Policing Innovations Series, we look at Arlington, VA – one of safest cities in America. In 1999, Arlington Police Department (APD) implemented a controversial policy to further enhance its quality of service; raising educational requirements for incoming officers. The article below, published in August 2006, looks at the policy, main criticisms, and early results. A follow-up article will take a look at how APD educational requirements are impacting the agency and the Arlington, at-large.

The Chief’s Perspective: Demolishing the Recruitment Myth

The Chief's Perspective Demolishing the Recruitment MythChiefs who consider requiring their officers to have degrees may wonder how their agency would benefit from the increased educational requirements. They also wonder if their department’s recruiting can survive changing the requirements.

The major myth about raising educational requirements is that it increases the difficulty of recruiting minority officers. The Arlington, Texas, Police Department (APD), serving a city with a population of around 360,000, has proven by its recruiting success that departments can-and should-require their police officers to have degrees.

For 20 years, the APD has required police officers to have bachelor’s degrees.

Until 1986 the APD had required only a high school diploma. In 1986 then-police chief David Kunkle changed the requirements to either a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree with two years police experience. In 1999 the associate’s degree alternative was abolished; a candidate joining the department must now have a bachelor’s degree.

Currently, 89 percent of the department’s officers have bachelor’s degrees. Furthermore, in 1996 Chief Kunkle required anyone promoted to supervisory rank to have a bachelor’s degree; since 1999 anyone promoted to an assistant chief’s position must have a master’s degree.

Many critics thought that the raised educational bar would harm APD’s diversification efforts. Since requiring degrees, the APD has successfully recruited officers, even protected-class officers (racial and ethnic minorities and females-often first-generation college students). In fact, people from these protected classes “have made up about two-thirds of each of our recruit classes since 1986.”7 APD has the “highest entry-level standards in Texas, yet is the most racially and ethnically diverse among major cities.”8

APD officers “contend that their education provides them a broader understanding of society and an improved ability to communicate, which translates into better problem-solving skills and a higher level of service to citizens.”9

Today, officers are asked to police differently and to do more on their own: “We expect them to understand and apply the law evenly. We expect them to grasp the nature of social problems and the psychology of people with different attitudes toward the law. We expect officers to professionally and effectively handle disputes involving people from varying cultural, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.”10

The President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice expressed this view 40 years ago:

“It is nonsense to state or assume that the enforcement of law is so simple that it can be done by those unencumbered by the study of liberal arts. Officers of any department should certainly be conversant with the structure of government and its philosophies. They must be well grounded in sociology, criminology, and human relations in order to understand the ramifications of the problems which confront them daily.”11

The Chief's Perspective Demolishing the Recruitment Myth2One partial explanation for the recruiting success is that, in general, minority police officers tend to be first-generation college students. Many of these first-generation college students have come from a family environment that has stressed education. These students want to work somewhere that values their hard-earned degrees. Recruiting protected-class cants requires a targeted approach. Colleges with higher minority and female enrollment, directors of female athletic programs, community referrals-all sources for college-educated recruits from those populations underrepresented policing.

One unexpected benefit for agency recruiting is that officers create a network with college professors and instructors who now refer their students to the APD. When the APD goes on recruiting trips, its officers ensure recruiters’ efforts reflect the population they are targeting. In fact, APD’s bachelor’s degree requirement has “enhanced our work force diversification efforts more than anything else we can identify.”12

Recruiting white male applicants is not a problem either. When people go to college and sit in a college classroom, they are suddenly exposed to different ethnicities, races, and nationalities. The resulting dynamics help potential APD officers communicate with people from all backgrounds and understand how to live in a civilized society: when and how to agree to disagree, and how to communicate while respecting differences of opinion and without resorting to force.

Degreed officers have developed critical thinking skills and an ability to communicate with people from all walks of life. They have been already exposed to life experiences that otherwise might have taken an additional 10 years of street experience to achieve.

Higher education requirements have worked for the APD. Agency recruitment is booming; during a substantial staffing increase, APD hired 161 officers in 24 months between June 2000 and June 2002.13 Through June 2006, APD hired an additional 119 officers. Citizens are happy: in November 2005 City Crime Rankings listed Arlington as ranking eighth in Safest Cities in America among cities with a population greater than 300,000.14


7 Theron Bowman, “Educate to Elevate.” 
8 Theron Bowman, “Diversity, Education, and Professionalism.” 
9 Theron Bowman, “Educate to Elevate.”
10 Theron Bowman, “Educate to Elevate.” 
11 President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, Task Force Report: The Police.
12 Theron Bowman, “Diversity, Education, and Professionalism.”
13 Theron Bowman, “Diversity, Education, and Professionalism.”
14 City Crime Rankings, 12th ed. (Lawrence, Kansas: Morgan Quitno Press, 2005).



Reprinted from The Police Chief, Vol. 73, No. 8, pages Aug, 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Inc., 44 Canal Center Plaza, Suite 200, Alexandria, VA 22314. Further reproduction without express permission from IACP is strictly prohibited.


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Kenneth D Price

Senior Managing Member at The BayLou Group, LLC
Co-Founder Kenneth D. Price is committed to promoting constructive conversations on pressing topics of our times. His corporate, small business, faith-based and community involvements enable Mr. Price to consider topics through multiple lenses. As a husband and father, Mr. Price is devoted to strong families. Most of all, his faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is the foundation of his worldview, recommendations, and general aspirations for mankind.
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