Veteran Views Law Enforcement Education as a Tool for Solving Community Problems
Tom Bailey has worked in civilian law enforcement for more than 20 years. A military veteran who served his country in Operation Desert Storm, he has since worked as a law enforcement professional in almost every possible capacity – from patrol to detective to community resources and public information officer – and has worked in a supervisory role for the last four years. He is a current student in the 100% Online Master of Science in Law Enforcement and Public Safety degree program at the University of San Diego, and credits his experiences with the program for his recent promotion from Training Sergeant to Commander. As Tom said in reference to his assessment for Commander, “I spoke quite a bit about the USD program and all of the themes we are discussing, and I know it made all the difference.”
Why did you decide to become a law enforcement professional?
I always wanted to find a job where I could help other people and I thought entering law enforcement would be a good opportunity to do that. The variety of different things you can do in law enforcement appealed to me as well.
Why did you decide to pursue a Master’s in Law Enforcement and Public Safety?
Getting a master’s is always something that I have wanted to do and I’m not sure why I put it off for so long! I always had my eye out for a master’s program with a leadership emphasis. I found a lot of programs that were master’s of criminal justice or public administration but it was hard to find that combination I was looking for. My chief actually came across the USD program and told me about it. It was exactly what I wanted. I started working on the application the next day.
USD’s program is extremely relevant and contemporary for our industry today. Law enforcement is facing challenges in terms of public perception and how we are being characterized in the media. The master’s program at USD is dealing with those contemporary issues we, as law enforcement professionals, are facing in the field today. For example, in my last class we examined the Presidents Report on 21st Century Policing. We discussed community interaction, professionalism, etc. – and we get to research the important components of the report to determine how we can help shape the narrative. With all the challenges that law enforcement faces today, we have a unique opportunity to make change and improve our communities.
Why did you choose the University of San Diego?
There are a lot of leadership programs and a lot of criminal justice programs out there but this is the only one I know of that combines the two. Plus, I grew up in San Diego and know what a strong reputation the school has. I was always very envious of my friends who were able to go to the University of San Diego.
Do you think education is important for police officers and those in law enforcement positions?
I think education is super important in law enforcement. A lot of departments are now incentivizing higher education. The demands and complexity of the job are increasing and we need people who can handle those challenges. What you learn most through higher education is how to collaborate with others and find answers to complex problems. You learn how to plan and organize and how to prepare professional reports presenting answers to those complex problems. And you learn how to make those answers understandable to a variety of people. I think there are a lot of street savvy people who can do a great job as law enforcement professionals, but if you add some education on top of law enforcement skills it is just going to improve the success of everybody.
What do you like best about the Law Enforcement Master’s Degree program so far? Is there anything you would change?
I love that we are learning about contemporary issues and learning how to apply solutions to a lot of the problems we are currently facing. Whether they are being sensationalized or not, they are affecting police legitimacy and we are learning ways to mitigate that. The USD faculty is awesome. They are extremely responsive, well educated and very experienced. In my recent assessment for the position of commander with my agency, I spoke quite a bit about the USD program and all of the themes we are discussing, and I know it made all the difference. I came out number one of five candidates.
What types of skills do you hope to gain from this master’s program, and how will those skills help you in the field?
I would like to come out of this program better prepared to improve the perception of our law enforcement legitimacy from the outside. But just as important, I’d like to learn strategies to help change police culture from the inside. I am interested in how we interact not only with our communities but with each other. We have to empower our people to solve problems without getting mired in bureaucracy.
What advice would you give to someone considering USD’s Master of Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership Degree?
It’s a great program and you will learn theory, how to apply it and it how it is being applied right now. The best time to start the program was a year ago but the next best time is now. I would advise anyone considering a master’s degree in law enforcement or criminal justice to look at this program — it really combines everything. I believe this program will make a difference for our profession, and that there has never been a more important time to educate our force.
How did you feel about the online component?
I love it. I didn’t know how I would do with an online program. But I also knew finding a program I could attend in person was almost impossible since I work full time and have five kids. So, I thought I would give the online format a try. I actually found that I am working harder in this online program than I did in my undergraduate program and I am getting a lot more out of it too. It is self paced but has enough structure so that you won’t fall behind. We are also forced to interact with other students — it’s part of the curriculum each week. And that is one of the best parts of this program – learning from other students across the country and hearing about all their varied and diverse experiences.
How has this degree program helped you in your career today?
As a training sergeant I have to make sure I’m staying abreast of contemporary issues. I’m halfway through the degree program and it has already given me ideas that I can bring back to my department. Eventually I would like to move up to the next level of commander. Having this degree will give me an advantage beyond just the degree title – through completing this program I will have advanced my knowledge in a way that will certainly set me apart.
What are your overall feelings about the program?
It’s been great and much more than I expected. From the very first class I was shocked with how much feedback the professors were providing on our assignments and discussions. Even though the program is online I really feel a sense of connection to the university and the faculty and the other students.
If you are a law enforcement professional and are looking to advance your education and career much like Tom, the University of San Diego may be the perfect choice. USD accepts students on a rolling basis in the fall, spring and summer for admission into the 100% online M.S. in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership degree program.