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Legislature, POST, and Community Colleges Still Have Homework to Do on New Minimum Education Standards for Peace Officers
AB 89, also known as the Peace Officers Education and Age Conditions for Employment, or “PEACE” Act, went into effect on January 1, 2022.
The most straightforward piece of that legislation was Government Code section 1031.4, which raises the minimum age for most peace officer employment from 18 to 21. This is a current requirement for new hires, but does not affect officers who were hired or cadets who were in the academy by the end of 2021. The new age minimum does not apply to custodial officers, park rangers, housing authority patrol officers, security officers, welfare fraud investigators, child support investigators, court service officers or marshals, arson investigators, voluntary fire wardens, and other assorted peace officers whose duties differ from traditional local policing.
The Legislature, in imposing this requirement, made a connection between increasing the minimum age of peace officers, and the aim of minimizing the use of deadly force. It noted that it has “repeatedly relied on neurological research with respect to criminal sentencing law reflecting a growing understanding that cognitive brain development continues well beyond age 18 and into early adulthood. Scientific evidence on young adult development and neuroscience shows that certain areas of the brain, particularly those affecting judgment and decisonmaking, do not develop until the early to mid-20s.” The Legislature continued by noting that law enforcement officers are required to make split-second decisions in dangerous situations, and that a young adult whose brain is still developing may struggle to make quick judgments.
AB 89 also creates Penal Code section 13511.1, which takes steps towards a goal of imposing new minimum educational requirements to be hired as a peace officer, of either a bachelor’s degree or a “modern policing” degree from a California community college, but appears to stumble.
In support of this goal, the Legislature noted that “a study has shown that better educated officers perform better in the academy, receive higher supervisor evaluations, have fewer disciplinary problems and accidents, are assaulted less often, and miss fewer days of work than their counterparts.”
Penal Code section 13511.1 requires the office of the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges to submit a report to the Legislature by June 1, 2023 making recommendations regarding this “modern policing” degree program. POST, stakeholders from law enforcement, including both management and employee representatives, California State University, including administration and faculty, and community organizations are to serve as advisors to the Office of the Chancellor.
There are some specific requirements for the Chancellor’s recommendations:
- First, the modern policing degree must focus on courses pertinent to law enforcement, which the Legislature determined shall include, but not be limited to, psychology, communications, history, ethnic studies, law, and courses determined to help develop necessary critical thinking skills and emotional intelligence. These course areas are generally consistent with the required curriculum for a college degree in criminal justice at institutions such as Marymount California University and California State University-Los Angeles.
- Second, the recommendations must include allowances for prior law enforcement experience, work experience, postsecondary education, or military experience to satisfy the minimum eligibility requirement for peace officer employment. It is not clear if experience could qualify for credit toward a degree — the recommendation is that experience will count toward the eligibility requirement, as opposed to the degree, but the statute also seeks to establish a degree as an eligibility requirement.
- Third, the recommendations must recommend that the modern policing degree or a bachelor’s degree be adopted as minimum education requirements for employment of a peace officer. POST has no discretion to make a different recommendation. It is not clear why the Legislature mandated POST to make this recommendation to the Legislature rather than enacting the minimum education requirement itself.
- Fourth¸ they must include recommendations to adopt financial assistance for students of historically underserved and disadvantaged communities with barriers to higher education.
As of March 29, 2022, the only mention of this program on the Chancellor’s website is an item on the agenda for the Board of Governors of the community colleges’ March 21 meeting, indicating that the Chancellor’s office circulated a survey to the colleges on this and other issues to campus policing, and received responses from less than 14% of the colleges.
The statute next requires that, within two years of the submission of the recommendations to the Legislature, POST “shall” approve and adopt education criteria “based on” the Chancellor’s recommendation – which must recommend a minimum requirement of either the modern policing degree or a bachelor’s degree. Some observers question whether POST actually has the authority to impose, by regulation, a higher educational standard than currently required by Government Code section 1031, subd. (e), which sets a minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent.
Further, as shown by the delay of the bias-screening regulations under AB 846, which are still not in effect four months after the statutory deadline, legislation requiring a regulatory agency to issue a regulation does not necessarily cause a regulation to be effectuated timely.
Thus, while it is clear that the Legislature desires higher education to be a prerequisite to employment as a police officer or deputy sheriff, whether or not this requirement is actually in effect by June 2025 remains to be seen.