Q: Why did you decide to go back to school?
A: I was a sergeant at the time. I had gone back to school at a junior college as a detective and, at the time, we worked 12-hour shifts. I was two classes away from graduating, but the scheduling made it really difficult to complete.
We had a new chief come on board, Chief Frank Coe, who challenged everyone to invest in themselves. “Look into education,” he said. Well, I was happy being a sergeant and that was my professional goal prior to entering law enforcement. But the chief explained that I’d be benefiting myself and my kids by going back to college.
Then, at a job fair, a recruiter from the University of Phoenix approached me and explained that it was a one-night-per-week program. I got a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2010. I choose this program because it was my major for my associate’s degree and had all my prior general education done in this area. It took me two years to complete.
The schedule was convenient. They offered classes online, but I thrive learning from other people. That was one of the best things—our contact every week with people outside of law enforcement was really great for us. We shared our thoughts and it was a great thing to discuss these issues with non-law-enforcement students and obtain their perspective of the criminal justice field.
Investing in myself and looking toward future advancement was what drove me to further my education. I never thought I could become a lieutenant, or even a chief of police someday. Once I started looking into it, it opened everything. Midway through my degree, I knew I would continue my education and get my master’s degree. And I did. I just finished it. I studied business administration. Being a mid-level manager, it was very appropriate for learning how to operate a PD like a great business.
Q: Do you need a degree to be a good cop?
A: You can be a good cop without a degree. But you do limit yourself. By opening your eyes with more education, it opens doors. You look at any job application anywhere and you’ll see they’re looking for degrees these days.
Q: What considerations should a working officer make before jumping into a program?
A: As far as pay goes, you get a percentage increase in pay in California and that’s a huge incentive.
Cost is a huge consideration. You want to look at your position financially and then at your goals in the short and long term. You don’t want to spend a whole lot of time away from your family. You need that support. You’ll be away for at least one night a week. Each agency has different incentive programs to encourage officers to get an education. The time I saved by going to University of Phoenix far outweighed going to another, potentially lower-cost college.
Consider also how many years you have left in the department. If you’re near retirement, you might not want to pursue your education in a criminal justice program but instead get a different degree, such as teaching or jurist doctorate.
Q: Do you have any final thoughts on education in law enforcement?
A: For LE to be considered a profession, we need the backing education. Across the nation, we need to do this to improve our credibility as a profession. Dealing with the DA, public and the media, you need to have credibility and education shows that you’re able to set goals and attain them. Anyone can get a job with a high school education. However, many departments are saying to raise the standard for the profession, you need to have a college education. Officers make mistakes but we need to have the best-trained and most educated people possible to maintain the public’s trust in the LE profession.