A recent move by the Ontario government to nix post-secondary requirements for police recruits in the province, and cut tuition fees for constables in training, has generated a mixed response from the Kingston community. At a press conference on Tuesday, Apr. 25, 2023, Premier Doug Ford announced the province would no longer require new police officers to hold a university degree or college diploma, as part of the government’s new Strengthening Safety and Modernizing Justice Act, 2023.
If passed, the act would amend the Community Safety and Policing Act, 2019 (CPSA), to allow anyone with a high school diploma or equivalent to become a police officer in Ontario. The government’s move to drop the post-secondary requirement received a tepid yet mostly positive response from Kingston and the Islands MPP Ted Hsu. When asked whether he supported the action, Hsu said: “Yes, but it is important to make sure that the various police services across Ontario are maintaining their rigorous hiring practices.”
Hsu noted that by making a high school diploma the educational requirement for officers, more people will be able to join the force who otherwise would have been kept on the sidelines. “The removal of the post-secondary requirement would allow stay-at-home parents, former military personnel, or former tradespersons to apply to become police officers,” remarked the MPP.
Hsu went on to add that prospective officers would still face a great deal of scrutiny and training before joining the force. “At each police service, candidates would still be screened with background checks, psychological tests, interviews, aptitude tests, and essay tests. Removing the post-secondary requirement removes a barrier, but does not lower standards, to make it easier for people to enter policing,” he expressed.
In terms of the response from experts in the field, Victoria Sytsma, a criminologist who studies policing and is an Associate Professor in the Sociology Department at Queen’s University, noted some concerns associated with removing the educational requirement for new recruits.
“Several research studies have found that post-secondary educated officers are less likely to use force than non-educated officers, and there is even a small body of literature which suggests officers themselves are less likely to be assaulted when they have a degree,” Sytsma said. With officers needing only a high school diploma, the Associate Professor warned that incoming recruits are “likely to be younger and thus lacking in emotional maturity.”
“There are also the direct benefits that come with getting a degree or diploma, such as the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills, developing tolerance of others, gaining more experience with diversity, and gaining experience with collaborative work. These are all skills that can contribute to one’s ability to treat people respectfully and de-escalate a tense situation,” added Sytsma.
On top of removing post-secondary requirements for officers, the act also aims to cut tuition for the province’s Basic Constable Training Program at the Ontario Police College (OPC). The program, a mandatory 66-day course for all new officers in Ontario, used to cost around $15,000. Now, the government will cut tuition for all new officers, while also expanding enrolment at OPC by an additional 70 recruits per cohort, in an effort to get “more boots on the ground.”
By cutting tuition costs for new recruits, the government is removing a significant financial barrier for those looking to become police officers in the province. However, the move has drawn pushback from those who note that other critical services, such as nursing, are not experiencing the same tuition cuts. For Hsu, the MPP wants the government to “have a plan” for all sectors experiencing similar issues.
“There are staff shortages in policing, but I think where there are other significant staff shortages in sectors that require critical skills, such as in nursing, tuition could also be removed,” Hsu remarked.
The government’s changes drew praise from the Kingston Police Association, which represents the interests of Sworn and Civilian members of the Kingston Police Service. In a post to Twitter on Tuesday, the association called the announcement “Excellent news.”
“This will certainly assist future members of [Kingston Police],” the Association stated.
The move to cut tuition costs for basic training will be retroactive to January 1, 2023. The government noted that new recruits who joined the program after the first of this year will be reimbursed for their tuition payments at a later date.