There is a special bond that exists between law enforcement officers and the community they serve, and this bond has never been more important or more precarious than it is today. The current tumultuous climate is fueled by what seems like a deluge of stories of officer misconduct and, conversely, threats and acts of violence against law enforcement officers. We need strong, qualified leaders in all branches of law enforcement who are equipped to handle the changing needs of the job. Police officers today need skills in leadership, management and communication for advancement. Sure, these are trying times to be a cop, but there is something we can do. Education has never been more available or appropriate for our profession than now.
A group of educators at the University of San Diego (USD) recognized this need and saw an opportunity for positive change. They set out to create a one-of-a-kind Master’s Degree program in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership. The program was created with collaboration from the San Diego Police Officers Association, Deputy Sherriff’s Association of San Diego, and a number of experts from other law enforcement and public safety agencies in San Diego County. The degree is designed to fill the gaps in traditional criminal justice programs by providing tangible leadership and management skills that address the needs of contemporary law enforcement.
When planning the program, USD’s Jason Lemon, Dean of Professional and Continuing Education, and Erik Fritsvold, professor of Sociology, Criminology and Socio-Legal Studies, reached out to several managers and leaders in the county to get first-hand knowledge of the practical needs of law enforcement and address the cries for change from other community groups. Their ultimate goal was to create a wellrounded and structured academic program that also provides tangible, applicable training for modern policing. The key areas of focus taught in this program are in communications, leadership, business management (including budget and finance), conflict resolution and ethics.
“When meeting with local law enforcement and public safety experts, they shared a consistent message with us,” Lemon says. “The growing number of vacancies from retirements in leadership positions compounded with the public scrutiny that agencies are currently experiencing has changed the educational needs of law enforcement. Rather than just focusing on traditional criminal justice curriculum, this degree responds to the expressed need for leadership development and will provide immediately applicable skills that will produce the next generation of leaders in law enforcement.”
These skills will become extremely valuable, especially in this time of great public distrust and animosity toward police. The education and training this program offers aims to address shortcomings in leadership. The program will educate students on new issues such as the use of body-worn cameras as well as establish a solid foundation of leadership fundamentals such as critical thinking, decision making and problem solving. It will also put heavy emphasis on effective communication for de-escalating potentially volatile situations. The course instruction aims to produce leaders adept at handling all issues in a practical, yet educated manner to meet the needs of the community as well as those under their command.
The program is unique in that it combines the best of both on-the-job experience and academic classroom education. Additionally, the master’s program offers far more than leadership training. It allows officers from different agencies to network and exchange ideas. It allows our future leaders to get away from the groupthink mentality and to not continue on just because that’s the way it’s always been done.
The degree is a 31-unit program that can be completed in 20 months. The fully online format accommodates busy schedules and is geared toward active-duty law enforcement and public safety professionals focused on fast-tracking their careers. The unique courses in this program are taught by USD faculty and experienced instructor practitioners, many of whom hold PhDs and possess extensive experience in law enforcement. Instructor practitioners include Chief Adolfo Gonzales of the San Diego Bureau of Investigations; Michael Begovich, Deputy Public Defender and Wendy Patrick, Deputy District Attorney.
“This degree is distinguished from the academic basis of traditional criminal justice programs by its practical application component,” Patrick says. “It is designed to focus on skills and methods of effective communication that modern law enforcement leaders can implement immediately.”
“The growing number of vacancies from retirements in leadership positions compounded with the public scrutiny that agencies are currently experiencing has changed the educational needs of law enforcement.”
The USD Master’s in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership is open to all law enforcement officers looking to promote into leadership roles and take on more responsibility. It can be completed in 20 months and tuition runs about $21,000, but law enforcement association members and veterans are eligible for a $2,480 grant to offset this cost. It is a flexible, well-rounded program that will prepare students for the complex and honorable role of being a leader in their respective agencies.
Recruitment for the fall 2015 semester is underway. To apply or learn more, visit CriminalJustice.SanDiego.edu.
OFFICER BRIAN MARVEL joined the San Diego Police Department in 1999. He served ten years in patrol operations at several divisions. He currently works in the Wellness Unit and is the Military Liaison officer for the department. His special assignments included the Bravo Team and eight years as the Terrorism Liaison Officer for Western Division. He is a veteran and an adjunct professor at the San Diego Regional Police Academy. Marvel is the current president of the San Diego Police Officer’s Association.
MELISSA WAGONER OLESEN is director of Digital and Media Communications at the University of San Diego, where she works with the School of Peace Studies, the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, the School of Law and the College of Arts and Sciences.