- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

FREDERICK, Md. Become a state trooper and get a free college education?
"I could not pass that up," Trooper Ronald J. Prematta said. "I'd have to be a fool not to take advantage of it."
Eighteen other December graduates of the Maryland State Police Academy agreed. Tomorrow, they will return to the classroom for a month to complete work on their associate's degrees in criminal justice with tuition paid by the public.
The police agency and its partner in the pilot program, Frederick Community College, said it is a first for state police departments across the country.
It may not be the last.
Law enforcement agencies increasingly require new officers to have college degrees, and offering one as a benefit could be an enticement.
"Law enforcement is no different from any other business they have to compete for employees, and any additional benefits they can give their employees the better," said Van Benton, director of operations for the American Society for Law Enforcement Training in Frederick.
"And any employer out there wants the most well-educated work force they can get," Mr. Benton said.
The push for college-educated officers began 35 years ago, with a presidential crime-commission recommendation.
By 2000, nearly 5 percent of big city police departments required four-year degrees of new officers, 10 percent required two-year degrees, and 37 percent had some type of college-education requirement, said a Justice Department report.
About 30 percent of all police officers have four-year degrees, said Louis Mayo, executive director of the Police Association for College Education in Alexandria.
The Maryland State Police program is modeled on one Frederick Community College and the Frederick County Sheriff's Office established 2 years ago, which is now mandatory for new deputies.
That program's creators, Lt. Allison Chapman and criminal law professor Mary Rolle, also have talked with authorities in Hawaii, West Virginia and the Virgin Islands, and they are regular speakers at the American Society for Law Enforcement Training's annual conferences.
"It's caught on," Miss Rolle said. "We've had a lot of different police departments looking at it."
The public expense, about $1,600 per student, is kept low by the program's design. The women begin by tearing apart a police-academy curriculum. Then they compare that material with the school's degree requirements and assign college credits to the pieces.
For example, they found that the state police academy already was teaching 42 credits worth of criminal justice material that could be applied toward a 63-credit associate's degree, Miss Rolle said.
She and Lt. Chapman then designed an intensive, four-week curriculum for the other 21 credits.
The subjects are English, Spanish, math, science, psychology, social problems and speech fundamentals, all tailored to law enforcement work.
"It's material that's relevant to them," Lt. Chapman said.
"For English, instead of doing a compare-and-contrast paper for, say, two poets, we let them use material they're learning in class. For example, the pros and cons of gun control, or the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana," she said.
Similarly, the speech class includes courtroom scenarios, with real lawyers eliciting testimony from officers in the witness box.
Lt. Chapman said the education is aimed at teaching officers to think, not just react. She said the graduates also learn to write more clearly, a critical component of police work.
"The more thorough that report, the more thorough the investigation, the more chances you have of a good conviction," she said.
Deputy Sheriff Jennifer Bailey, one of the first graduates of the Frederick program, said the course work was difficult but rewarding.
"It was very demanding. I didn't go to bed a lot of times until 2 or 3 a.m.," Deputy Bailey said.
But "looking back on it, where else can you get a degree in such a short period of time?" she said.
"Even if I leave the sheriff's office, I leave with a degree in my hand," Deputy Bailey said.
Trooper Prematta said he is looking forward to the schoolwork despite the daily commute, 50 miles each way, between his Elkton home and the classes in Pikesville.
"I would say it will make me a better trooper, just because of the amount of knowledge you learn," he said. Also, "I would say it gives me a better opportunity for advancement."
Some of the 50 troopers who received badges last month already had college degrees. With the pilot program, 70 percent of them will hit the street with degrees, said Maj. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman.
Col. David B. Mitchell, the state police superintendent, believes strongly in higher education.
"A police officer in today's society must be a consummate professional. Education is key to establishing and maintaining that professionalism," he said.

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