Continuous Education: The Key to the Future of Policing
This article was written by Jose Luis (Joe) Couto, Director of Government Relations and Communications for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, police officers and policing as a profession were often in or near the eye of the pandemic storm. Officers were frequently part of the story regarding the enforcement of pandemic lockdowns and restrictions. Policing as a public service and institution was also questioned during the past two years by many Canadians calling for an end to police violence against Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) and greater accountability on the part of police when it comes to systemic racism in policing. The on-going concerns about the costs associated with policing as a public service – which resulted in calls for cuts to police budgets and even the defunding of policing – will be remembered as part of the COVID-19 era.
The Evolution of Policing in Canada
Despite the pressures on Canadian policing today, an Angus-Reid survey (2020) found that three-quarters of Canadians still view police favourably, despite all the serious challenges facing the sector. It found that 72 per cent of survey respondents called their local police service a source of pride. This includes two-thirds of Indigenous and BIPOC respondents. But the study also showed that younger Canadians are less likely than their older counterparts to view the police positively. Canadians between 18-24 years of age, on average, felt less secure when they see a police officer (38%) than more secure (32%), which is reversed in all older age groups. Similarly, 37 per cent of 18-24-year-olds reported an unfavourable view of police compared to just one-in-ten (11%) among those 65 and up.
Other studies during the past decade have considered the evolution of policing, such as: the federal Goudge Report, which looked at the cost of policing in Canada (Council of Canadian Academies, 2014), the Independent Review of Street Checks in Ontario (Tulloch, 2018), and the on-going work of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP), through its working groups on anti-racism and re-imagining policing, have and continue to require police professionals to consider the future of policing.
The current and future state of policing demands that we prepare current and future police officers and civilian personnel for 21st century challenges. Police training and education are and will continue to be important factors in the future success of police professionals. This is certainly reflected in new legislation that will govern policing in Ontario in 2022, the Comprehensive Ontario Police Services Act (2019), which will require that most new recruits bring post-secondary education to the table as part of their efforts to join the profession. That’s why the OACP is seeking to strengthen its collaboration with institutions such as Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) to ensure current and new police personnel have access to quality education and training that meets the law enforcement challenges ahead. WLU’s policing education degrees (Honours Bachelor of Arts in Policing and the Combined Honours Bachelor of Arts in Criminology and Policing programs) are designed to create a solid foundation for current and future policing professionals.
The Importance of Continuous Education in Policing
In today’s world, education is a gateway for police professionals to become critical thinkers. In their blog Five Reasons Police Officers Should Have College Degrees, American researchers Leanna Bouffard and Gaylene Armstrong (2020) argue that “higher education” is a critical factor in providing police officers the tools to accomplish five key objectives of 21st century policing:
- be less likely to use violence in carrying out their duties
- be more problem-oriented
- enable officers better relate to the communities they serve in
- help officers identify best practices to help them meet today’s policing needs
- build better leaders.
Interestingly, higher education was identified in the U.S.’s 2015 President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing as one of six effective ways to reduce crime and build better relations between police and the communities.
Sound education and training for police professionals also addresses a critical factor for positive and effective change within the police profession: culture change. Organizational theorists have long championed organizational cultures as instruments for making sense or “meaning” out of one’s place within a profession (Taylor, 1987; Judge & Robbins, 2007). In fact, Edgar Schein’s (2004) Organizational Culture Triangle holds that there are different layers to cultures within organizations based on three key factors: organizational artefacts, values, and beliefs – factors that go deeper into organizational meaning as we progress from the first to the last factor. It’s clear, then, that if you want to change workplace culture and the way its members act, education and training become critical to that goal.
Education is but one of the critical factors that should impact the hiring of new recruits and the promotion of current members. Specifically, life experience, other professional experiences, trades skills, and relevant volunteer experience are all things that need to factor into the hiring process. Most recruits to policing already have or are in the process of acquiring higher education credentials that will help them succeed as professionals in a law enforcement profession. That is why programs like those offered by WLU are so important to today and tomorrow’s police professionals.
Advancing Education and Learning for Police Personnel
WLU programs are designed to suit different types of learners. In today’s increasingly on-line learning environment, online courses offer significant benefits for new and current police members to pursue their education in a flexible manner. Courses are:
- designed by professionals and academics with years of field experience
- flexible and convenient (100% online format)
- courses are asynchronous (focus on one subject)
- learners earn their credentials while working full-time, from anywhere
- success advisors offer personalized support.
This emphasis on sound content and flexibility is critical to the success of current and future police professionals. Police officers today and tomorrow will continue to deliver key social services to the communities they serve. As outlined in the OACP’s (n.d.) Constable Selection System, police personnel remain responsible for critical factors in community safety and well-being:
- preserving the peace
- preventing crimes and assisting others in prevention
- assisting victims of crime
- apprehending and charging offenders and executing warrants
- building trust and positive relationships with our communities
- commitment to further developing and maintain those relationships with the community
As police leaders, OACP members will continue to encourage education and training that assists police officers and civilians achieve their professional and personal goals. Partnering with WLU is part of a strategy to provide our members with educational and training opportunities where they are in their career, their personal lives, and even taking geography into consideration.
Angus Reid Institute. (2020). Policing in Canada: major study reveals four mindsets driving current opinions and future policy preferences. https://angusreid.org/policing-perspectives-canada-rcmp/
Armstrong, G. & Bouffard, L. (2020, June 18). Five reasons police officers should have college degrees. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/5-reasons-police-officers-should-have-college-degrees-140523
Comprehensive Ontario Police Services Act (2019). https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/s19001
Council of Canadian Academies. (2014). Policing Canada in the 21st century: new policing for new challenges. https://cca-reports.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/policing_fullreporten.pdf
Judge, T. & Robbins, S.P. (2007). Organizational behaviour. Pearson Education.
Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (n.d.). OACP certificate testing. https://oacpcertificate.ca/
Schein, E. (2004). Organizational culture and leadership. Jossey-Bass.
Taylor, E.B. (1987). Primitive culture: researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, language, art, and custom. Gordon Press.
Tulloch, M. (2018). Independent review of street checks in Ontario. https://www.mcscs.jus.gov.on.ca/english/Policing/StreetChecks/ReportIndependentStreetChecksReview2018.html.
United States Department of Justice. (2015). President’s task force on 21st century policing. https://www.justice.gov/archives/opa/blog/president-s-task-force-21st-century-policing-recommendations-print-action