Smart Cops

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KSU grads changing the face of modern law enforcement

When a Cobb County juvenile went missing recently, his parents scoured the child’s social media communications for clues and reported to police that there was nothing to help them locate the missing youngster.

Abby Lukas, a cyber specialist with the Marietta Police Department, begged to differ. A 2013 graduate of Kennesaw State’s three-year-old Master of Science in Criminal Justice program, Lukas drew on skills honed during her undergraduate studies in information systems and the research and analytical skills derived through her graduate work. Following the cyber trail of links available from public Twitter feeds and on Vine, pulling off metadata and scouring IP addresses, she identified individuals most likely to be with the missing youngster. From that, officers determined the juvenile’s location within one day.

Lukas represents the face, and some would argue, the future of law enforcement and criminal justice — one in which an increasing number of sworn officers and civilian personnel of local, state, and federal agencies have earned college degrees. And many also agree that an advanced degree has become the surest way to rise in the ranks of modern law enforcement.

A 2008 Department of Justice census of nearly 3,100 state and local law enforcement agencies showed that 61 percent of agencies with 100 to 499 officers offered college tuition reimbursement as a recruitment incentive. In addition, 53 percent of the largest state and local agencies (500 or more officers) targeted four-year grads in their recruitment.

“To attract and retain professional, degreed officers, a police department needs to project the image of a professional organization,” Louis Mayo, executive director of the Police Association for College Education, wrote in a recent edition of Police Chief. “This recruitment goal is consistent with improving police services and reducing officer stress factors.”

Mayo contends that part of officer stress comes from the management model many agencies have traditionally used: a paramilitary, hierarchical structure that supports top-down decisions. In a more professional agency, decision-making is decentralized and ineffective patrol rides give way to community involvement. This approach, he argues, requires qualities conveyed by a college education: maturity, discretion and judgment.

The growing number of Kennesaw State graduates working in law enforcement and criminal justice would agree. They have earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in a range of majors, including public administration, information security, sociology and criminal justice. Since its first graduating class in 2004, the undergraduate criminal justice program has awarded more than 600 degrees and consistently ranked among the University’s most popular majors.

Despite the nature of their degrees, those who have moved into or remained in law enforcement share a common belief in the value of higher education to their profession, a passion for the work and a strong desire to advance.

Thinking ahead

Abby Lukas credits “a forward-thinking chief” for leading the Marietta Police Department to become the only force in Georgia to incorporate her part-time, two-year, grant-funded position into both the proactive and reactive aspects of investigations.

“Proactively, we use cyber investigation to find out what’s going on in the community, what people are talking about and where and how we may be able to reach out to the community,” said Lukas. She noted efforts to alert parents to what they should know about privacy and security settings on websites and social media their kids are using.

On the reactive side, Lukas says she’s been given free rein to use her research and analytical skills to assist in solving a range of cases, from burglaries to missing persons to finding people selling stolen merchandise on Craigslist.

“The value of my graduate degree has been to help me research more efficiently and effectively, to understand and demonstrate the validity of research and to look at things from an analytical perspective,” she said.

Setting a foundation

Major Steve Kish at the Marietta Police Department says a college education is invaluable both to promotion in law enforcement and to success in policing. Beginning his law enforcement career with MPD in 1993, Kish graduated with top honors from Kennesaw State in 2008, earning his bachelor’s degree in sociology with a strong emphasis in criminal justice. He also earned a Master of Public Administration at Columbus State University in 2012.

“Being a police officer today is about customer service,” Kish said. “The primary skill I took away from my education is seeing things from others’ perspectives, which helps you look at big picture solutions rather than Band Aid fixes. A fouryear degree is required for promotion beyond sergeant, but the knowledge and skills ... are invaluable. Earning a degree shows that you have patience, tolerance, tenacity, critical thinking skills, and … can handle success.”

A passion for helping people and top-notch preparation have driven alumna Valerie P’Pool’s career in federal law enforcement. Prior to earning a B.S. in criminal justice in 2010 and becoming the program’s first Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent in 2012, she spent nine years in the Air Force and interned with the U.S. Marshal Service Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force.

“The knowledge I gained from [assistant professors] Stan Crowder and Peter Fenton in courses like Criminal Profiling and Analyses, Victimology and Ethics in Criminal Justice will stay with me throughout my career,” P’Pool said. “The FBI maintains detailed documentation … that may eventually be used in a courtroom or be disseminated among other agencies. The assignments at KSU, ranging from cold cases to victim studies, helped build the foundation for my investigative modus operandi today.”

Preparing for a career

Christopher Kitchens, who earned the B.S. in criminal justice at Kennesaw State in 2009 and became a criminal investigator and deputy marshal with the U.S. Marshals Service in the Southern District of Texas, says he had a much better understanding of what to expect in starting his career and was much better prepared for the job after studying areas like investigations, serial offenders, corrections, community policing and ethics.

That is precisely what the undergraduate program aims to do, according to Crowder, a retired military police colonel, forensics expert and co-author of a recently released textbook, “Ethical Justice: Applied Issues for Criminal Justice Students and Professionals.” With concentrations in criminal justice administration and law; forensic behavioral science and technology; and crime, students can carve out a career path based on their interests in law enforcement and criminal justice.

“Our goal is to send criminal justice students out to the professional fields with skills to secure the career of their dreams,” Crowder said. “A B.S. without a J-O-B is not much help. Students must be mentored and taught the methods of success in their career. I want students to come away from my courses with critical thinking skills and the ability to apply logic and the scientific method to the challenges in criminal justice tasks.”

Though he was born into a family “heavily involved in public service, many of them in law enforcement,” Officer Joey Turner of the Cobb County Police Department wanted to follow the family tradition and help people. But he decided to concentrate on law enforcement administration in Kennesaw State’s undergraduate criminal justice program.

“[That] helped me secure an administrative position in the department,” said Turner, who joined the CCPD in 2004 and earned his BS in 2010. A police officer II/certification manager with the Special Project Unit, he also is regional coordinator for the Georgia Police Accreditation Coalition and an assessor for the state certification program. He says his degree gave him the credentials necessary to become certified to teach new recruits as well as veteran officers.

More effective policing

Lance LoRusso, an attorney and former police officer who earned his Master of Public Administration degree at Kennesaw State in 1994 while working fulltime as a Cobb County police officer, says advance degrees are not only becoming the norm across law enforcement, especially in the upper management ranks, they are contributing to better understanding of law and criminal justice and more effective policing.

The author of “When Cops Kill: the Aftermath of a Critical Incident,” LoRusso says he has a keen interest in how law enforcement and public policy interrelate. It is that intellectual curiosity that motivated him to pursue an M.P.A. and to immediately start law school at Georgia State, where he earned his law degree in 1999. He now heads a firm bearing his name and specializing in civil law.

“When you’re working for a public entity, you are required to follow the law and know what the legislation compels you to do,” said LoRusso, who serves on the advisory board for Kennesaw State’s Department of Sociology and Criminology and remains active as a law enforcement advocate and trainer. “For example, there was a time when there were no domestic violence statutes in place but when the legislature passed the Georgia Family Domestic Law in 1990, we [police officers] had to change how we responded to domestic violence situations based on the law. Law enforcement is evolving, and higher education better prepares those who practice and manage it.”

 

- Sabbaye McGriff