What makes a good ‘cop’? What we know and what we don’t know…

Prof Roberta Julian3
3Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies, UTAS, Hobart, Australia

There is an important gap in knowledge about police education at a time when involvement in the tertiary education sector is becoming more commonplace in Australian jurisdictions. This trend is likely to continue as the professionalisation of police resurfaces as an important goal for senior leaders in Australian police organisations and remains a topic of debate in the international discourse on contemporary police practices. The question of how to educate police – and to educate them well – to meet the challenges of contemporary policing is only just beginning to be addressed in a rigorous evidence-based manner founded on empirical research. This paper draws on existing research to raise the questions: ‘what makes a good police officer?’ and ‘how should they be trained and/or educated?’. While discussions about police leadership have been growing in recent years, there has been less emphasis on recruit training and education. Should the focus of recruit training be on learning about policing (i.e. content focused) or should it be on learning to be problem-solvers, leaders, decision-makers (i.e. focused on the police officer herself)? How important are research skills and knowledge in this training/education? What is the ‘right’ balance between capability development and content delivery? What are the ‘right’ capabilities? In short, what should be the learning objectives of police recruit training and education? This paper critically reviews what we know (and don’t know) about these issues.


Roberta Julian is a Professor of Sociology and Foundation Director of the Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies (TILES) at the University of Tasmania. She conducts research and teaches in police studies and criminology. She currently leads an innovative program of research in the emerging field of forensic studies that examines the use of forensic science in the criminal justice system. Roberta is a member of the Board of Studies at the Australian Institute of Police Management, Vice-President of the Tasmanian Branch of the Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society and Tasmanian representative for the Australian Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers.


The society is devoted to promoting criminological study, research and practice in the region and bringing together persons engaged in all aspects of the field. The membership of the society reflects the diversity of persons involved in the field, including practitioners, academics, policy makers and students.

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