Just about every adult agrees that with age comes wisdom, patience and experience. And one state legislator believes these three qualities might just make the difference when it comes to whether or not a police officer makes the right or wrong call when deciding if deadly force is actually justified in a given situation. That’s why Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer introduced a new bill into the California State Assembly that would require new police officers to either be 25 or hold a bachelor’s degree. The proposal, AB-89 has a lot of support among psychologists, criminal justice reform advocates and criminal attorneys such as Peter Liss.
Why Change the Age Requirements for California Police Officers?
Jones-Sawyer explained that the bill “relies on years of study and new understandings of brain development to ensure that only those officers capable of high level decision-making and judgment in tense situations are entrusted with working in our communities and correctional facilities.” And he’s right; researchers have increasingly been finding evidence that the brain does not fully develop until between the age of 25 and 30. This is particularly true when it comes to the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for controlling impulsive behavior, assessing risk, making plans for the future and regulating emotions.
These studies have led to questions about when young people are truly ready to handle the responsibilities of adulthood, such as the ability to drive, to drink, to smoke and more. One of the biggest ethical problems this research has uncovered is whether or not those who are between the ages of 18 and 25 should be charged and penalized the same way as other adult offenders or if they should be put in a more juvenile-like setting based on the fact that they still don’t have the sound judgement of a true adult. In fact, data from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention shows that those who are 18 to 25 are nearly twice as likely to commit a crime compared to those above 25.
The same logic applies to police as well. The brain’s ability to properly assess risk doesn’t fully develop until 25 and that means people under this age would be much less likely to make the right call when it comes to determining whether or not deadly force is required in a given situation.
But What About Increasing the Educational Requirement?
This wasn’t just added to provide aspiring officers an alternative way to enter the force before they turn 25. Instead it too was based on studies, including one by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department that showed both the age and education were the two main factors when looking at an officer’s likelihood of resorting to force. It is easy to imagine that people who are able to buckle down and focus for an additional four years of education have more patience and ability to plan for the future than those with only a high school diploma.
Requiring a specialized lengthy education would also make sense since police officers must know law, science and psychology to effectively do their jobs, which are all topics that someone interested in a career in law enforcement would ideally study.
How Would This Change Things?
Well, right now California, like many states, only requires officers to be 18 and have a high school diploma or the equivalent. If the bill passed, California would have the highest age requirement in the country. While Illinois, North Dakota, New Jersey and Nevada are currently the only states to require officers to hold a bachelor’s degree, California would also stand out as the only state to have a higher age requirement that can be waived by the possession of a higher education diploma.
Criticisms of AB-89
Naturally, not everyone is a fan of the new bill. While the California Peace Officers’ Association has made no formal stance on the proposal, it has warned that by instituting such rules, minorities, military veterans and those from less wealthy households may be less likely to become police officers since they might have a harder time seeking a bachelor’s degree. It is a real concern, particularly if those people were likely to enter other fields in their late teens that might make them less likely to become an officer when they did turn 25.
That being said, many proponents of the bill argue that it’s important to do something. As it stands, California saw over 703 civilians seriously injured or killed in 2019. By basing peace officer qualifications on hard data, we could very likely cut that number dramatically.
If you have any questions about AB-89 and how it might affect the criminal justice system, attorney Peter M. Liss can help. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free consultation to discuss the matter.