Investing in Your Profession
There likely has been a time when you have pondered whether a college degree would be of benefit to your law enforcement career. But, the investment–both time and money–may seem daunting. It may be worthwhile to consider the purpose of a college education in conjunction with your personal and professional aspirations.
Many seek a degree purely for economic reasons: to meet entry level qualifications for a professional position, to enhance career potential or to receive a promotion. In this sense, the purpose of a college education is to prepare for work or to improve one’s economic situation. Higher education is also about personal development and improving life for others.
College should not seek to teach you what to think, but rather how to go about thinking. The goal should be to develop your capacity to inquire, consider diverse viewpoints, engage in critical thinking, and effectively communicate sound ideas for the purposes of developing creative and evidence-based solutions to problems.
In the 21st Century, we frequently refer to law enforcement as a profession; however, this is a relatively new concept. The professionalization movement is attributed to Chief August Vollmer of the Berkley, California Police Department. Vollmer is credited with many firsts in police operations, but his passion was educating officers. Vollmer established in-service training for law enforcement across California, and he partnered with the University of California to deliver college classes for officers. This was the genesis of academic programs designed with law enforcement officers in mind.
O.W. Wilson asserted that Vollmer “steadily maintained that if the police are to attain professional standing, provision must be made for pre-employment training comparable in quality to that provided for lawyers, doctors and the other professions.” This was revolutionary because American society and most officers viewed law enforcement as a job, not as a profession.
Jobs typically require some form of skills-based training through on-the-job training and maybe structured, short-term training classes. A job is a position one occupies to pay the bills. A profession is much deeper; it involves a personal commitment to a given vocation.
If you ask an attorney or a medical doctor about their vocation, the person would likely say “I practice law” or “I practice medicine.” This implies the individual works in a vocation requiring ongoing education to stay current. They “practice” to learn and apply all they can, but recognize they will never truly master the field. A true professional seeks ongoing personal development, reads professional/scholarly literature, embraces life-long learning, is accountable to their associates and seeks to further their vocation (life’s calling) for the benefit of others.
Consider how many of our colleagues go on to teach in the field after retirement or take up second careers as consultants. For many of us, law enforcement is our life’s calling, and we continue to identify with the profession even after retirement.
The complexity of our times requires leaders who can apply critical thinking, consider diverse viewpoints, and effectively communicate sound ideas for creative and evidence-based problem solving. The father of modern policing, Vollmer, likely would have said the same in the early 1900s. When pondering whether to pursue a college degree, consider the purpose of higher education and its relationship to professionalism. Is law enforcement just a job or do you view it as your professional vocation?
Trey Drawdy, M.Ed. has served as director of the Reinhardt University Public Safety Institute since 2009 and is interim dean of the School of Professional Studies.
CITATIONS: Bowman, T. L. (2012, January). Is policing a job or profession? The case for a four-year degree. CALEA Update Magazine, (108).
Wilson, O.W. (1953). August Vollmer. The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science, 44(1), 91. https://doi.org/10.2307/1139476
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