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Project Better World, week 3

This week, in service of building the world I want to live in, I am going to commemorate something we’ve been working on since March, but which was publicly announced today.

SUNY Potsdam Launches New Law Enforcement Training Institute

Early in the year, Toby White, our Director of Experiential Education, came to me to say that he was working with Sonny Duquette, former Director of another local police academy, on a proposal to build one at SUNY Potsdam. I was honestly baffled. A … police… academy? I know nothing about law enforcement training, and we’re a liberal arts college. Did this make sense? But Toby was sure it did. So I started doing research.

It makes all the sense in the world. There’s an academic article to be written about the process, the fit, the administrative hoops, the curricular integration, the needs assessments, but it sums up to that. It makes all the sense in the world.

We have a thriving Criminal Justice program, in a vibrant Sociology and Criminal Justice department. We are proud of the quality and appropriateness of our CJ curriculum, which prepares students for law enforcement careers. And we’re committed to applied and experiential learning. All the pieces are there.

So why is this part of my making a better world goals? Simple: Social change.

We have a student body that skews female, and which is 30-40% minority. Those groups are both underrepresented in law enforcement. So we’re opening the pipeline to a group of potential law enforcement officers who are more diverse than might otherwise be found in the employment pool.

We have a student body that skews towards economic disadvantage, and first-generation college attendees. In both cases, these students are focused on getting meaningful jobs straight out of college. By taking the academy while enrolled at Potsdam, they will hit the job market better qualified than many other applicants, and it will cost them less (or cost their hiring department less, thus making them yet more employable).

And we will be producing law enforcement professionals who have a four-year degree behind them, with a focused course of study in the principles of criminal justice systems, an understanding of social forces in America, the history of our institutions, beliefs, and laws, and more — and the New York Division of Criminal Justice police academy curriculum. The police officers with whom I’ve discussed this are thrilled that this is the caliber of officer candidate that we’ll be educating.

That last part is important to me; I don’t want to be the liberal asshole who says “our educated officer candidates are better than normal officer candidates.” I don’t mean that. I know there are police officers who graduate high school, attend the academy, and serve with honor, distinction, and skill. I do not mean, intend, or desire to demean that contribution. But I also believe that those officers can sometimes be disadvantaged by the things they don’t know, because their education to that point didn’t prepare them with more depth and nuance of knowledge and understanding.

So we’re going to help prepare officer candidates. We’re going to help open the door to law enforcement for more New Yorkers, and offer our police forces a different kind of pool to choose from when hiring. We can’t, and shouldn’t, change the criteria those forces use when they hire, but we can offer them more choices to pick from.

I’m proud of that.

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