Top right clockwise: The seal of the Oceanside Police Department, the San Diego county Sheriff’s Department Administration Center and the Chula Vista Police Department. / Photo by Megan Wood and Adriana Heldiz
Top right clockwise: The seal of the Oceanside Police Department, the San Diego county Sheriff’s Department Administration Center and the Chula Vista Police Department. / Photo by Megan Wood and Adriana Heldiz

This post initially appeared in the April 9 Sacramento Report. Get the Sacramento Report delivered to your inbox.

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:

  • “It appears about 72 percent of our officers have degrees. Many have several, all the way up to a [Ph.D.] and Juris Doctorates,” wrote Jodee Reyes, community relations manager for the Carlsbad Police Department. Reyes said the department has no stance on AB 89.
  • Chula Vista Police Capt. Eric Thunberg wrote: “I do know that prior discussions about degree requirements have raised concerns about exclusion and diversity for agencies.” Chula Vista says it doesn’t track college degrees among officers. Thunberg said the chief there agrees with the California Police Chiefs Association statement opposing the measure. Chula Vista PD doesn’t track college degrees among officers.
  • Megan Blake, a senior human resources analyst for El Cajon, said in an email: “We don’t have a document that gives an exact answer. The city offers education incentives – employees submit documentation of a bachelor’s degree when they become eligible. Based on our records, about 37.7% of our sworn officers have a BA/BS.” El Cajon has 114 sworn officers, Blake noted.
  • “The La Mesa Police Department is aware of AB 89 but it’s too early in the legislative process for the department to have a position,” La Mesa Police Department Sgt. Daniel Herrin wrote in an email. “As of today, approximately 69% of our sworn personnel have degrees ranging from an associate’s degree to a Juris Doctorates. The number is approximately 60% if we only account for a bachelor’s degree or an advanced degree as worded in the current draft of the legislation.”
  • “Our employees are not required to tell us if they have their degree or not,” San Diego Sheriff’s Department Lt. Amber Baggs wrote in an email.

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.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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