Pam Oda presents her research findings in Texas
It’s just the beginning stages of her research, but Pam Oda ’24 has already presented her preliminary findings at the Society for Police and Criminal Psychology (SPCP) in Arlington, Texas, thanks to monies from the Alliance Supporting Pacific Impact through Computational Excellence (ALL-SPICE) grant. Standing in front of her presentation board, Oda explained the importance of education in the law enforcement field, which has long been debated. While many agencies have historically required little to no college coursework for entry-level positions, research suggests a positive correlation between education and job performance at all levels of law enforcement.
With the mentorship and encouragement of Dr. Kelly Treece, Criminology and Criminal Justice director and associate professor, Oda’s study evaluated disciplinary actions taken against Honolulu Police Department officers. With access to open records, Oda was able to obtain the types of allegations of police misconduct, which are divided into four sections: administrative investigation, criminal investigation, quality assurance and accreditation.
“Most of the violations were for administrative reasons,” said Treece, a former sergeant and trainer with the Pewaukee Police Department in Wisconsin. “Pam did a really good job with her presentation, and she handled herself very well in front of a lot of professionals.”
The recent calls for police reform—combined with mounting evidence that an educated police force can have positive effects—have sparked a nationwide conversation about raising education requirements for police officers.
“Currently, the minimum qualification to become an HPD officer only requires having a high school diploma or your GED,” Oda said. “I think we need to raise that standard in Hawaii.”
In her presentation, Oda noted that 51.25 percent of officers received a High School Diploma or GED, 27.5 percent held a bachelor’s degree and 15 percent have received their associate’s degree or completed 60 semester credits or more. The numbers are consistent with national statistics, which show that only one percent of local police departments across the U.S. require their officers to hold four-year degrees and only eight percent call for officers to have attended any college at all.
Oda further noted that early research indicates that there is a broad performance difference between officers who have a college education and those who do not.
Citing a paper written by S.M. Smith and M.G. Aamodt (1997) in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, the co-authors found that police officers who possess college degrees are better performers than those with only high school degrees, including overall performance, communication skills and decision-making ability.
According to Oda, this type of research has been ongoing yet most departments are not implementing these findings into policy and practice. In addition, in a study conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum (2019), officers with a four-year college degree had significantly fewer civilian complaints than those with only a high school diploma.
Oda also pointed out that research shows higher education has significant benefits for law enforcement officers, including the ability to navigate the complexities of modern-day policing, which consists of critical analysis, enhanced communication abilities and a comprehensive understanding of the criminal justice system (S. Christopher, 2015, in Policing: A Journal of Police and Practice).
Now in her fifth year at Chaminade, Oda will complete a double major in Criminology and Criminal Justice and Data Science, Analytics and Visualization with minors in Computer Information Systems and Psychology in December. The Hilo native hopes to continue her research with Treece at Chaminade while pursuing her graduate degree in Criminal Justice.
“That’s the plan right now,” said Oda, who serves as the president for the Chaminade Student Government Association, as well as the president of the Restauranteers Club. “Since starting in fall 2019, I have taken advantage of the countless opportunities that Chaminade has to offer, from student clubs and organizations to research and internship opportunities to student employment and the ‘ohana spirit.”
Treece, too, plans to expand the research to include the Sheriff Division of the Hawaii Department of Public Safety, which will then include statewide statistics and a broader representation. By doing so, she and Oda will be able to capture a more robust picture of the correlation between education and law enforcement.
“The next step is to write a paper, which I’ve asked Pam to help me co-author,” Treece said. “She’s a little hesitant and nervous about it, just like she was when I first approached her about presenting in Texas. I think she’ll do great.”