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The Importance of Advanced Education for Law Enforcement

Jose Tellez is a captain, second in command, at the National City Police Department. During his 28 years with the department, he has worked in a number of roles including homicide investigator, public information officer, SWAT commander, community sergeant and various supervisory assignments in the Patrol Division. In addition to his police work, Capt. Tellez teaches a master’s level community engagement class at the University of San Diego.

Capt. Tellez estimates that 15-20 percent of professionals in his agency have earned their master’s degree, a figure that has increased steadily over the years. " If you have any aspirations to promote into a formal leadership role, a master’s degree is a no-brainer," said Capt. Tellez. "There are too many things that are impacting our profession – not only the internal politics of government, but outside influences like technology, economy, community relations. If you have obtained a formal degree you are better able to cope and handle the challenges that you will face as a leader in an organization."

Tom Bailey, a Commander with an agency in Washington who recently graduated with an M.S. in Law Enforcement & Public Safety Leadership agrees. "The demands and complexity of the job are increasing and we need people who can handle those challenges," emphasized Commander Bailey. "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."

Personal and professional growth is important for professionals across all ranks and agencies, not just those in leadership positions. Formal education creates a better, well-rounded individual who is able to think critically, problem solve, and have a wider perspective. An advanced degree gives you the ability to consider more information when making those critical decisions, and if you are at a management level, it also gives you the intellectual tools to lead your department or agency down the right path.

Jennifer Tejada, Chief of Police in Emeryville, CA., recently enrolled in University of San Diego's online master's degree program because she sees the value in combining academic learning with the experiences gained on the job. "There’s experiential learning and there’s academic learning, and I think we need both. Even though I have learned a lot on the job, this is really bringing it full circle for me."

Research has shown that an educated public safety officer is a better officer, who is likely to have a broader understanding of what is happening in the professional and who really understands all the nuances and issues of the community. “My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner,” Chief Tejada said. “. If I had one piece of advice for somebody who’s thinking about doing a master’s, it would be to do it now … do this early on in your career.”