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Utah officers head back to school.

More and more Utah law enforcement officers are college-bound as part of a new venture between Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) and a number of Utah police departments. While the idea of officers' pursuing college degrees certainly is not unique, how many of them can say that they attended college classes held at the police station or a police training facility? On any given day, Utah citizens can see officers of all ranks walk into the department with textbooks under their arms.

Law enforcement administrators recognize that the complex demands of the job dictate that officers receive as much training and education as possible. Officers themselves realize the value of learning and understanding the attitudes, views, and perspectives of others. Bringing the college classroom to the officers shows citizens an agency's commitment to law enforcement professionalism and its desire to have educated officers serving the community.

Program Inception

The partnership between the college and the police departments began when SLCC's criminal justice coordinator and the Sandy City police chief met to discuss the idea of bringing the college's program to the officers. The agency had an on-site classroom equipped with CD-ROMs, TV/VCR units, and other instructional technologies. With this learning environment already in place, the chief realized that very little stood in the way of implementing a program that would give officers an avenue to higher education. Sandy City's officers enthusiastically welcomed the opportunity to attend college. As word of the program's success spread, five other law enforcement agencies - Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake City, Murray, and the West Valley City police departments and the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department - joined in the venture.

Curriculum and Registration

The criminal justice program curriculum covers all courses required for officers to receive either a 2-year associate of science (AS) degree, which is for students who plan to transfer to a 4-year institution, or a 2-year associate of applied science (AAS) degree. Officers who successfully complete the requirements for the AS degree may transfer their law enforcement and general education credits to Weber State University to pursue a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, but they must take additional general education courses and electives before obtaining junior status. Three other institutions of higher learning in Utah - Westminster College, Columbia College, and the University of Utah - accept credits from this program, if officers are interested in obtaining a degree in another discipline.

To receive an AAS degree, officers must earn 96 credits in 3 categories - 24 credits in general requirements, 17 credits in major course requirements, and 55 credits in electives. The same number of credits (96) is required for an AS degree, although the credit hours for each category differ - 51 credits in general requirements, 17 credits in major course requirements, and 28 credits in electives. The criminal justice program also allows students to obtain both elective and required credits for job-related training.

Major course requirements include introduction to criminal justice, criminal law, criminal investigations, criminalistics, and the laws of evidence. The electives for both degrees vary, but include such courses as police and social problems, criminal justice management, women and the criminal justice system, Spanish for law enforcement, and juvenile delinquency, to name a few. The criminal justice faculty, both fulltime and adjunct, have many years of practical law enforcement experience at the federal, state, and local levels, in addition to their academic achievements and experience.

Course registration takes place at each department, and SLCC works with the individual agencies to schedule classes to accommodate shift changes and other department needs. Students even can purchase textbooks where they work.

Enrollment

Enrollment is open to all police officers regardless of rank. At the request of the police departments, citizens and students can enroll in these off-campus courses. The resulting mix of students provides a diversity in the classroom and exposes each to different viewpoints and experiences that contribute to the learning process.

In Sandy City, a unique opportunity exists for high school students. They can compete for a 2-year, tuition waiver scholarship at SLCC as part of the partnership between the college and the police department. The first scholarship recipient will start SLCC in the fall of 1997 when the student enrolls as a criminal justice major. During the 2 years of eligibility, the scholarship winner will work as an intern in the Sandy City Police Department while attending classes in the police station, on campus, or at both venues.

To encourage enrollment, some agencies reimburse officers for course expenditures, although the departments differ in their education reimbursement policies. For example, the Salt Lake City Police Department budgets approximately $1,800 per year for each officer to pursue advanced degrees. In Sandy City, the department pays the full tuition and cost of materials for officers who earn a grade B or higher and 75 percent of the costs for those earning passing grades. Salt Lake County reimburses 75 percent of the tuition costs, and Murray officers receive 100 percent tuition reimbursement with a passing grade.

Benefits

When many of the officers who have enrolled in SLCC courses joined their agencies, college attendance or an advanced degree was not required. Today, this no longer holds true. In many departments, officers need a college education to get promoted. For example, the Sandy City Police Department requires that officers have an AA or an AS degree to be promoted to sergeant; a BA degree is required for promotion to captain and higher ranks. In the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department, a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university is required for the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant, and captain, although service in the current rank can substitute for the required education on a time equivalency basis (30 semester hours or 45 quarter hours equals one year of experience).

Some departments add stipends to officers' base salaries for educational achievements; the more college credits an officer has earned, the higher the base pay. In other departments, college credits reduce the time it takes for officers to become eligible for promotion, or officers receive better benefits upon retirement if they have attended college.

Along with professional development comes personal achievement. Officers feel gratified knowing they earned a college degree that some thought was beyond their reach. They also set a positive example for others, particularly younger officers and family members.

Conclusion

Both officers and departments alike recognize the value of a college education. Many officers themselves now admit that college is a must for a career in law enforcement given the complexity and demands of the job.

Officers need to be able to think, analyze, perform, and make decisions based on more than their street experience. They also need the knowledge, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills that come from a college education. Administrators from Salt Lake Community College and law enforcement are working together to merge the two learning venues to enhance the confidence and abilities of Utah's officers.

Ms. Julie Slama works in the Public Information Office of Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City, Utah.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Federal Bureau of Investigation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Slama, Julie
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:May 1, 1997
Words:1171
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