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Crimcast is a virtual resource devoted to critical conversations about criminology and criminal justice issues. Our blogposts, twitter feeds, podcasts and other content provide an overview of trends, research, commentary and events of interest to criminal justice practitioners, academics and the general public. CrimCast is sponsored by The Center for Crime and Popular Culture, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY.

Don’t We Deserve Better? Florida Police Officers Should Have College Degrees

Staci Strobl

By Luis Gamez

Recently, many events have occurred that potentially call into question the effectiveness of the State of Florida’s basic minimum standards required for entry into the police profession. On or about January 13, 2014, Curtis Reeves, a retired police captain was arrested for fatally shooting a citizen in a central Florida movie theater after a text messaging-related dispute.  According to reports, he felt his life was threatened after the citizen threw what turned out to be popcorn at the former officer. Furthermore, just days later, a Miami-Dade County officer named Rose Stabio and her husband Giomar Picon (who incidentally, is also a former Sweetwater, Florida police officer) were arrested for theft of county property (i.e. they were caught on-camera fueling their personal vehicles using Stabio’s county-issued gas card which is meant to be used strictly for county vehicles). Since their arrest in January 2014, both Stabio and Picon have been decertified as police officers as part of a plea agreement. Unfortunately, these episodes are simply the latest in a very long string of police-related debacles not just in Florida, but throughout the nation. Interestingly, if one were to analyze these types of events, whether it is the widespread corruption of the so-called “Miami River Cops” during the 1980’s  (Mancini, 1996), the recent legal victory by Los Angeles Police Department traffic officers over secret quota requirements, or the tragedy of the Reeves shooting, a distinct pattern begins to arguably emerge—a lack of both mature judgment as well as the apparent intellectual capacity to perform the job of police officer properly and honorably.

For example, in the State of Florida, in addition to having a clean record, the bare minimum requirements to become a certified law enforcement officer are: a) Be at least 19 years old; b) US Citizenship; c) High School diploma or equivalent, and the successful completion of an approved certification program (i.e. the police academy). Is this enough? Is this fundamentally right? Unquestionably, sound scholastic and scientific research has repeatedly and consistently demonstrated that college educated officers “write better reports, receive fewer citizen complaints and [generally]…do a better job overall.” 

Nevertheless, Florida (along with many other states) still refuses to raise the minimum requirements needed in order to become a sworn police officer—why? Clearly, law enforcement officers are tasked with the all-important responsibilities of keeping the peace, maintaining order and yes, enforcing the law. As such, they can potentially take away not just the liberty of a citizen, but possibly, his/her life as well. Obviously then, is it really too much to ask that many of these men and women not be vapid simplistic machines who merely follow orders without truly analyzing the “bigger picture”, and whose critical thinking skills may or may not leave something to be desired? Are police in fact, not the servants of society, instead of the other way around? Are we not all equal under the law? Debatably, one could say that the sort of superiority complex, and other problematic behaviors which some officers have demonstrated in the past opens the doors not to preserving our freedoms and civil rights, but rather, to what former Department of Education Deputy Assistant Secretary for Higher Education Mark Levin calls a “soft tyranny.” Is this what we really want for ourselves?

Therefore, is it not an important imperative that standards be raised in this vital and meritous  profession? Should not all new officers be required to hold a Bachelor’s degree as an indicator of both worthiness as well as preparedness prior to being given these awesome government-backed powers? Do we, as a society, not deserve better? There are those who feel that we do.

Luis Gamez resides in Miami, Florida and holds a Masters in Criminal Justice from Florida International University. With the exception of about two years (during which time he worked as a private investigator and security consultant), he has taught college courses since 2001 at Miami Dade College, Florida International University, ITT Tech, Everest Institute (where he was the Criminal Justice Program Chair), Florida National University, and John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Additionally, he practices martial arts and writes science fiction.