LAPD recruits marching during a graduation in 2018. Credit: Eric Garcetti/Flickr.

Proposed Bill Would Require Police Officers Be 25 Years Old or College Grads Before Joining the Force

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A proposed bill would require that new police officers and prison guards in California be 25 or older — or first earn a bachelor’s degree — to qualify for employment. The proposal points to data that indicates older and college-educated officers are less likely to use excessive force.

As it stands, police recruits in California must be at least 18 years old and have earned a high school diploma or GED. Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, who introduced the Peace Officer Education and Age Conditions for Employment (PEACE) Act on Monday, would see that change.

The bill references several studies to bolster its point. One study of 1,935 Philadelphia officers found that those with greater self-control are less likely to use deadly force, while those with less self-control are “significantly more likely” to be involved in a shooting. That seems fairly obvious, but it’s paired with research showing that the part of the brain that deals with decision-making is not fully developed until the mid-20s. The bill also references a 2007 study that found officers with a bachelor’s degree were less likely to use force than those with only a high school education, as well as a 2012 study that found officers who were repeatedly involved in use of force incidents were usually younger.

“The evidence is clear — the prefrontal cortex of the brain is not fully developed until age 25,” said Esteban Nuñez, director of advocacy at the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. “It is with similar logic that youth must be treated as youth by our criminal justice system. This legislation will reduce the risk of unlawful or impulsive use of force by requiring law enforcement officers to have more full brain maturation before entering high-stress, high-stakes situations.”

Jones-Sawyer also noted that the use of excessive force costs cities and counties a lot of money when they have to settle lawsuits.

“It is imperative that we be good stewards of public dollars, especially during the current pandemic when local government budgets cannot sustain even basic services for residents,” he said.

The data might make a compelling case, perhaps, but it’s hard to determine how much of a dent these new requirements would make in instances of police violence. Many of the whistleblower accounts regarding L.A. County Sheriff’s Department gangs refer to older deputies that allegedly harass their communities and younger rookies alike.

At the very least, this bill seems like it would only be one piece of a very large puzzle. Back in June, LAPD officer Frank Hernandez was charged with assault after video footage showed him repeatedly hitting a trespassing suspect in Boyle Heights. Even former District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who was frequently criticized by activists for being lenient on law enforcement, called the footage “disturbing.” Hernandez is 49 years old.

Los Angeleno