Officers Excel Off the Beat in GW’s Police Science Program

Program equips law enforcement professionals with the latest skills.

October 5, 2009

professor lecturing to students in front of white board

By Julia Parmley

As a crime scene investigator for Prince George’s County Police Department, Paul Julius, B.A. ’05, would spend hours collecting fingerprints, locating weapons and examining blood trails. But that sometimes paled in comparison to the amount of schoolwork he had as a student in GW’s Police Science Program.

“The program demands time and commitment, but it truly helps law enforcement officers improve their job knowledge and performance,” says Mr. Julius.

Now retired, Mr. Julius is one of many police officers who have enforced by day and learned by night in the program, which is offered as a bachelor’s or associate degree program in GW’s College of Professional Studies. Designed for full-time law enforcement professionals, the program was launched in 2004 in collaboration with several police departments, including the Metro Transit Police and D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).

The curriculum addresses the critical components of law enforcement, including crisis and emergency planning, crime prevention and criminal justice. Director Frederic Lemieux says the program provides police officers with skills they need to advance, like project management, leadership and specialized training in areas such as the psychology of criminal minds.

“A successful police officer is one who is equipped with the knowledge and skills to do a better job and is well-informed about current national and international issues,” says Dr. Lemieux.

The University’s first police science class graduated in 2007 and consisted of 25 officers from various law enforcement agencies, including U.S. Capitol Police, Metro Transit Police and Interpol. Every student who is a sworn officer receives a Walter E. Washington scholarship when enrolled in the program, which covers half of the tuition cost. Courses are taught by faculty who are either academic experts or professionals in the field.

The program culminates with a weekend-long capstone in which each student spends 72 hours conducting an exercise that resembles a real-life incident, such as the 2005 London transportation system bombings. They receive data and information in real time and are required to issue press releases, address the media and participate in a two-hour mock public commission audit in which they are asked to justify their decisions. Students then write a paper assessing their performance and decision-making.

A new master’s degree in security and safety leadership in the College of Professional Studies, developed by Dr. Lemieux in 2007, covers topics ranging from homeland security and emergency response to leadership and performance management. The 16-month program is offered in conjunction with GW’s Center for Excellence in Public Leadership and requires a thesis on a security or safety topic related to a student’s career interests.

Dr. Lemieux says many of the police officers enroll in the programs to advance their career or to prepare for a second career such as consulting. “Some police officers now face new rules for promotion and realize they should return to school,” he says. “Also, as they get older, officers begin thinking about pursuing a second career related to police work and want to get another degree to be competitive.”

For Mr. Julius, returning to school after 15 years on the force was an invaluable step for his career. Now a student in the security and safety leadership program, Mr. Julius plans to write his master’s thesis on human trafficking and play a role in anti-trafficking efforts after he graduates. “You can’t be one-dimensional in police work,” he says. “There are so many factors that can come into play when you are on a scene; for example, why domestic abuse might be taking place or why a drug addict is acting a certain way. This academic program helps you develop that understanding.”

A part-time faculty member in the Police Science Program, Keith Williams teaches a course on strategic planning, which he says helps to “instill a long-term thought process in the students and officers that can help them throughout their careers.” Mr. Williams is no stranger to police work: By day, he works as the director of MPD’s Office of Risk Management. “Over my almost 20-year career, I have spent time in patrol assignments throughout the city, been a part of MPD’s homicide division, worked in the chief of police’s office, and managed our evidence warehouse and school security bureau,” says Mr. Williams, who is currently completing his doctorate at American University in justice, law and public administration to prepare for a career as a professor after retirement.

Mr. Williams says the police science program provides students with a “quality education” that aids them tremendously  in their careers. “I have seen incredible growth in students’ learning and understanding during their time in the program,” he says. “The students’ commitment is incredible, and they graduate as more astute and competent members of their respective police agencies.”