LINDA VISTA — The University of San Diego is launching an online master’s degree this fall designed to help fill leadership gaps at local police agencies and elsewhere with instruction focused on skills such as communication, community engagement and management.
The degree program in law enforcement and public safety leadership will be offered entirely online to cater to the work schedules of police officers, sheriff’s deputies and other public safety workers who can have shifts that constantly change, university officials say.
The 31-unit program can be completed in 20 months and covers a variety of topics, including leadership, conflict resolution, critical decision making, ethics, budget and finance.
Tuition is $699 per semester unit, or $21,669 for the degree. Members of public safety unions, the military and veterans will get a discount from the university that will bring the cost down to less than $20,000.
The concept for the program shifted from a traditional master’s in criminal justice to something more practical after officials at the private, Catholic university met with members of the law enforcement community, including representatives from the San Diego Police Officers Association and Deputy Sheriff’s Association of San Diego.
Erik Fritsvold, academic coordinator for the program, said they heard about the need for practical skills to help those who want to be leaders in law enforcement.
“What we did is spend 2½ years essentially meeting with anyone who would take a meeting with us, anyone in the region in public safety professions, and asked them, ‘How can we build a program to serve you?’ ” Fritsvold said. “We took our time and really were able to deliver some practical hands-on skills that these folks need.”
As a result of the input, Fritsvold said USD abandoned its traditional academic model to focus more on applied skills.
Courses will cover contemporary issues such as how the Fourth Amendment applies to cell phones and body cameras and how law enforcement can better engage with community members.
Instructors will include Adolfo Gonzales, former National City police chief who heads the bureau of investigations in the county District Attorney’s Office, Deputy Public Defender Michael Begovich and Deputy District Attorney Wendy Patrick.
The introduction of the new degree comes just two months after the release of a yearlong, independent review of the San Diego Police Department by the U.S. Department of Justice. The report found serious gaps in supervision and discipline that allowed officer sexual misconduct and other offenses to go undetected for months and even years. The report was critical of the department’s reliance on acting sergeants as squad supervisors.
University officials said they heard concerns about law enforcement officers being promoted into higher-ranking jobs without having the skills or training they need to be effective leaders.
“We were told that folks are in charge of significant budgets without any formal economics or budget-management training,” Fritsvold said.
Jason Lemon, dean of professional and continuing education at USD, said meetings with local law enforcement and public safety experts revealed a consistent message. “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,” he said in a statement.
USD’s program should be attractive to officers interested in advancement and is likely to help them stand out as they seek promotions, said Brian Marvel, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association.
“With the professionalization of law enforcement, I think a master’s program that really focuses on what it means to be a law enforcement leader is a benefit to the profession, especially for people who want to further their education or move up the ladder to be the future leaders of law enforcement,” Marvel said.
He said the program should allow officers to learn from instructors familiar with issues important to law enforcement. Marvel thinks so highly of the degree, he said he might consider pursuing it in the next couple of years.
USD officials say they hope to enroll about 30 students in the first year, but eventually want up to 200 students enrolled. The application deadline is Aug. 10.
Staff writer Gary Warth contributed to this report. [email protected] (619) 293-1350 Twitter: @karenkucher