When I entered law enforcement more than three decades ago, things were very different. The idea of going to college to become a cop was fairly novel at that time. The common wisdom was that a would-be police officer only needed some life experience and a clean background to enter law enforcement. While these attributes are still important for those seeking entry into the criminal justice professions today, they are hardly sufficient anymore. The world and the job have fundamentally changed with the evolution of society and the constant introduction of technology.
If I think back to those days as a rookie police officer, the concept of technology hardly entered my mind. Technology was a 1978 Plymouth Grand Fury, a pair of handcuffs, a .357 magnum, and an old hickory nightstick. What else does a cop need, right? Wrong. That may have been the way it was then, but today’s officers drive, carry, wear, and use technology that wasn’t even conceived of just a few short years ago, let alone decades ago. They must be tech- savvy and know how to employ emerging technologies efficiently and innovatively. Sgt. Joe Friday has met the knowledge worker and it’s not just “Book ‘em, Danno” anymore.
Criminal justice professionals today must be polished community-builders, communicators, analytic thinkers, problem solvers, and public relations experts.
They must be able to engage with a vastly diverse clientele on a variety of complex quality of life concerns. They must be as concerned about serving the needs of crime victims as they are about catching bad guys.
While previous law enforcement was a matter of following orders and policy, today the emphasis is on good decision-making and front-line leadership. Criminal justice professionals are subjected to unprecedented public scrutiny, with the potential for their actions to be judged instantaneously by a global audience. Who could have foreseen the era of CSI, crime forecasting, cyber-detectives, or a role for the beat cop in global security? Yet, all these have come to pass and the pace of change will only accelerate. Acquisition of the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to manage these challenges is essential. And education is the key.
All those years ago, when I first pinned on the badge, strapped on that .357, and climbed into that cool Grand Fury, I thought I had arrived and just about knew it all. Little did I understand that the lesson was just beginning, but I can say that I am proud to be part of cutting-edge criminal justice programs that prepare today’s law enforcement professionals for tomorrow’s challenges.