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A bill making its way through the state Legislature would require incoming police officers to be at least 25 years old or to have a college degree. Some San Diego County police agencies said many of their officers already have degrees; others said they don’t even track those statistics.
Two different bills aimed at police hiring and training requirements are making their way through the Legislature. Both were written by Democratic lawmakers, but they reflect wildly different approaches – one was offered by police groups themselves and represents their preferred changes, and one would impose far stricter hiring requirements that police groups are mobilizing to oppose.
The latter was supposed to go before the Assembly Public Safety committee this week, which is chaired by the bill’s author, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer. AB 89 would require officers to be older than 25 or to have a college degree in order to be hired. Jones-Sawyer announced at the beginning of the hearing that he was pulling the bill from consideration that day to allow more time for discussions between stakeholders – but he tore into police groups’ criticism that the bill would impact minority recruitment efforts, calling that contention racist.
Jones-Sawyer was referring to opposition letters his office has received so far from statewide police groups, including the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the Police Officers Research Association of California, the California Police Chiefs Association and others.
Jones-Sawyer, who is Black, was especially incensed by a contention made by PORAC President Brian Marvel, a former San Diego police officer.
“Due to the low percentage of college graduates among the minority population, PORAC believes that mandating a college degree for peace officers will only further exacerbate the lack of diversity in law enforcement,” Marvel wrote in the group’s opposition letter.
“The claim that individuals of color cannot meet education requirements so far has been proven unjustifiable, assumptive and, frankly, as an African American male, I find totally offensive,” Jones-Sawyer said at the hearing. “Insinuations from particular stakeholders that recruitment of Black and Brown individuals is hampered by higher education requirements not only misses the mark on why those individuals do not want to be police officers at this time, it is also lazy and does not change how or where to recruit.”
That same contention – that strict hiring requirements would hamper minority recruitment – was echoed by law enforcement agencies in San Diego County.
We surveyed the county’s law enforcement agencies to get a sense of how AB 89 might impact them. Their responses varied significantly: Some said a vast majority of their officers already hold four-year degrees; others said they don’t even keep track. Some were not yet willing to take a position on the bill; others said outright that they oppose it. No local police agency said definitively that it supports the measure.
Oceanside’s new police chief, Fred Armijo, said, “I agree in concept with what AB 89 is trying to get at. I do have a little bit of concern of what will be the result of the economically-disadvantaged getting into the profession and the impact on our hiring.” But he acknowledged that the assumption that minority candidates are underrepresented among degree-holders is “anecdotal.”
“Otherwise I like the idea of people with higher-level of education coming into the profession. Perhaps there’s positions where people could be a little bit better,” he said.
Here’s what we heard from other departments that responded:
Sen. Anthony Portantino’s bill, SB 387, has the backing of the Police Officers Research Association, and would incentivize police officers to pursue higher education – but would not require it. Portantino’s bill would add academic coursework to training requirements and help cover the costs of a college degree for current and prospective officers.
Kayla Jimenez and Jesse Marx contributed to this report.