The Cop Column
July, 2003
Sgt Rick Hord

A Deputy Sheriff's Education Never Ends

Every year, approximately 1,500 men and women in Florida, including about two dozen in Okaloosa County, begin careers as newly-hired Deputy Sheriffs. Increasingly, many of them have completed some level of higher education.

That's a trend that's likely to continue. More than ever before, law enforcement agencies are encouraging their officers to go to school.

One-third of the full-time Law Enforcement Officers in Florida can boast of an AA (two year or Community College level) degree. That's also the case here at the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office.

Of Florida's 67 Sheriff's Offices, only one (Jacksonville) requires a college degree for new Deputies. The others encourage it. Okaloosa does not require a degree, but in addition to the 106 Okaloosa Deputies who have already earned at least one sheepskin, many others are actively pursuing their education. So far, we boast 14 Deputies with postgraduate-level degrees, with more to come. Locally, our percentage of Master's or PhD-level degrees, at more than four-percent, is twice the statewide rate for law enforcement officers.

Officers whose personnel files include college education and other training benefit with additional pay. They also have a head start on the competition for promotions and special assignments.

In fact, every Deputy, college education or not, spends time in the classroom. Ongoing training is one of the basic traits of a professional in any field, and Florida requires its law enforcement officers to go back to school on a regular basis. In fact, any officer who does not complete at least 40 hours of advanced or specialized training in a four-year period finds himself or herself unemployed.

Courses available to Deputies and other officers run the gamut. Obviously, cops must learn to use physical force skillfully and appropriately; various classes are devoted to this visible and potentially litigious aspect of the profession.

The official state-approved list of courses for cops includes Advanced Report Writing, Computer Applications in Criminal Justice, Crisis Intervention, Domestic Intervention, Hostage Negotiations, Sex Crimes Investigations, Investigative Interviews, Underwater Police Science & Technology, various management classes... and many, many, more.

Officers, depending on their job specialty (either current or prospective), must be competent at operating various items of equipment, or performing certain tasks. Whether it's the right way to conduct a traffic stop (most officers for many years have been doing it the wrong way), how to track drug smugglers, or how to maintain and calibrate a breath-alcohol testing machine, there's a school or a class to cover it.

In fact, there aren't many subjects not covered at one time or another by police training. Even such an arcane topic as Aristotle's Rhetoric makes a prominent appearance, in a class known by the intriguing name of "Verbal Judo."

At the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office, as well as other progressive law enforcement agencies, professionalism is closely tied to education.