John McKean spent 20 years in the Marines before embarking on his law enforcement career nearly 13 years ago. He has worked on large scale investigations as a member of the North County Regional Gang Task Force (NCRGTF) in San Diego County and is currently serving as a police officer in the city of Oceanside, California.
How did you start your career in law enforcement?
I used to teach skydiving and worked with a pilot who was also a reserve captain in the police department. We would talk a lot and at some point he talked me into becoming a reserve cop. I started going on some ride-alongs with him and eventually I got into the academy. By this time I had a young family, and heading out for a few months at a time as a Marine wasn’t as much fun as it used to be. So I retired from the Marines after 20 years and moved into law enforcement.
Why did you decide to pursue the Master’s Degree in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership?
I’m a little bit older than the majority of the guys I work with. I just completed my bachelor’s degree in 2015. Furthering my education and getting my master’s degree was something I always wanted to do. I have a 15-year-old son and I wanted to show him how much education means to me and to set the example. The opportunity to earn my MS online through USD presented itself I jumped on it.
My goal is to advance my law enforcement career by being promoted through the ranks, and having a master’s degree —especially one from a top ranked university like USD — is going to help me assume more leadership responsibility.
The program at USD is very focused on law enforcement, and the curriculum is contemporary — it’s all relative to what we are doing every day in the field. In this program we are getting the most up-to-date information. I love that aspect of it.
Why did you choose to pursue your master’s at USD?
USD has a great reputation and for the past many months I have been going there it has lived up to that reputation. Plus, it made sense financially – it was within the budget I could afford (when taking into consideration my GI bill and the tuition reimbursement from my department).
What do you like best about the online Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership program so far? Is there anything you would change?
What I like —and talk about almost every day at work — is how relevant the curriculum is to what we are actually doing in the field. For example, I could take the paper I am writing for class this week into my department next week and hand it over to the chief of police and say “hey, we should really take a look at this policy.”
We have law enforcement professionals from all over the country taking this course. So it’s not just the professors we are learning from but each other. The other students in the program have varying levels of experience – from brand new cops to law enforcement leaders who have been in the field for 30 years to researchers and educators. You get the best of both worlds – real world law enforcement and academia, from all over the country, every week, right on your computer.
How have you handled balancing school with your full-time job?
The workload is challenging but not overwhelming. It is a 20-month program and each course is only 7 weeks long, so it goes by fast. You have to commit to it but, since you only take one class at a time, you can fit it into your schedule and really focus on the material.
What do you hope to do upon graduation?
Once I graduate with this degree there is a good chance I will get promoted to sergeant. I came into the policing community late – I didn’t start working in the field till I was 40. Being a cop is a physical job. You’re always one day a way from getting hurt. So, ultimately my goal is to start teaching criminal justice in local universities and community colleges.
How do you feel about the online component?
Being able to take all the classes online was a big part of the decision for me. I don’t mind going to a class but I also have a family and a full-time job. The online component is a huge selling point for cops like me because we have changing and often unpredictable work schedules. Enrolling in a master’s program is a big commitment, but the online aspect allowed me to fit it in.
What skills do you think you will gain from this master’s degree program and how will those skills help you in the field?
My writing skills have already improved greatly. I am learning how to better articulate my thoughts in a condensed format that is not boring to read but still covers all the key points. Writing is a large part of my job – writing reports, memos, and evaluations. Now I am able to write something in two pages that previously would have taken me 10. The professional writing skills I have gained is one of the biggest things I will take away from this program.
Why do you think education is important for police officers and those in law enforcement positions?
The law enforcement field is changing. It used to be you didn’t need a whole lot of education. But every profession evolves and you need to be able to evolve with it. For most of us cops that can be difficult — cops hate change. Education is so important today, especially with all the scrutiny that law enforcement is put under. Being better educated will help you back-up the decisions you make on a daily basis in the field.
What advice would you give to someone in criminal justice considering a Master’s degree?
If you’re currently working in law enforcement and looking to be promoted, the Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership master’s degree program at University of San Diego is definitely going to put you a step above everybody else. The information is relevant and the curriculum is up-to-date and contemporary. In class we talk about real world issues such as how Supreme Court decisions are made. If you want to advance your law enforcement career and move into a leadership role as a sergeant, captain, or commander this program is right for you.
If you would like to advance your career in law enforcement just like John, consider how a graduate degree could help. 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.