The current shortage of willing recruits to policing seems an odd time to impose much higher standards on new policing hiring, but that is precisely what the profession needs now to repair public trust in a makeover that goes beyond mere reform to "nothing less than the transformation of America's police officers into peace officers," commentator and former police executive Cedric Alexander wrote in the Washington Post.
Alexander, who held leadership positions in the police departments of Rochester, N.Y., and DeKalb County, Ga., and other law enforcement positions in federal and state agencies, wrote that there can be "no peace" without the legitimacy that comes from procedural justice — the public perception that police are "just in their processes, transparent in their actions and sympathetic to the voices of the people they serve."
This transformation must start with wholesale upgrades in the way departments recruit, train, supervise and compensate police officers, Alexander wrote. Instead of lowering standards to increase recruitment, agencies must insist on better-educated recruits "who have acquired and practiced the skills of critical thinking, possess a high degree of technological competence, have a basic grasp of behavioral psychology, a solid knowledge of laws and their application, and understand both the value and reality of diversity in the American population."
I have come to believe that a two-year associate’s degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree and life experience are not merely desirable but essential for police work. High school is far from sufficient. I suggest two or four years of college with a major in psychology, other social science, or even social work. But any field that inculcates critical thinking would provide invaluable background for officers. They need the mental skills to decide the truth or falsity of a claim or belief. Critical thinking lifts judgment and actions above prejudicial fallacies and biases. This is essential to policing in America’s increasingly diverse communities.
Raising standards, he wrote, "is the only way to redeem and renew the profession."