Requiring new police officers to have a degree is a recognition of how difficult their job is

Reuters/Andrew Winning

The College of Policing has proposed that anyone applying to be a police officer in England and Wales could be required to hold a degree. The proposal is currently undergoing consultation, and if approved, it could be trialled in 2017 and fully implemented by 2019.

This idea has been around for a while, though this is the closest it’s come to actually being implemented. It has always been met with heated debate, with opponents saying it will be impossible to implement and that having a degree “does not make you a good police officer” – though the College of Policing has stated that the job as a police officer is now of “degree-level complexity”.

Chief Constable Alex Marshall, chief executive of the college, has rightly pointed out that the role of a police officer is as complicated as that of a social worker or a nurse, professions that only accept graduates. The police service landscape has indeed changed dramatically over recent years, partly thanks to funding cuts and partly because of huge changes in how police officers carry out their role in more a reactive away, dealing with crime as it occurs and not preventing crime due to less frontline staff on the beat.

This is not to say that the police just recruit anyone who walks through the door. Many forces in England and Wales have put recruitment on hold for many years due to cuts in funding and the huge costs incurred in recruiting new officers, so they can certainly be rigorous and fastidious with regards to recruitment.

The problem is that qualification requirements aren’t standardised across forces. Some insist that all applicants have A-levels or a Level 3 equivalent qualification to apply, or a certificate in knowledge of policing qualification gained through a private provider, but others don’t – even though police officers on the beat across the country are all doing a very similar job.

But with police work finally being recognised for its complexity and difficulty, it’s only logical that a professional framework for prerequisite qualifications is needed to keep professional standards high.

Raising the bar

It’s perfectly understandable that many in the police service, which faces huge logistical and financial challenges, should instinctively react against demanding yet more of recruits. To some, this sounds like just another barrier to more people joining the police. And as things stand, police officers already undergo many training courses and develop transferable skills during their service, but leave with no evidence of their hard work when they retire.

The College of Policing has proposed to rectify this issue with the suggestion that police officers obtain qualifications during service, such as degree-level qualifications for constables and masters for superintendent levels.

This year’s cohort? Exams by Shutterstock

Even the sceptics must recognise the savings that police forces could make if instead of doing all their training in-house, new police recruits complete their initial training at university in collaboration with a local police force. But the argument for raising the bar for recruits is not just a pragmatic one.

I myself have worked for three different regional police forces as a police officer and police trainer, and currently work with Nottinghamshire Police. It rather baffles me that anyone would think it’s a bad idea for new police recruits to be highly qualified individuals with a degree, people who’ve studied diligently to enter the policing profession.

I have already seen a huge rise in the number of new police recruits with degrees in my training classroom. Some accept a huge drop in salary to become police officers because they are passionate about making a difference in the communities they will serve.

Above all, the police service must change to survive. Many police forces are forward-thinking and welcome the degree proposals; many are already collaborating with higher education providers to develop training for future police officers. The new recruits they help will definitely benefit.