In recognition of National Criminal Justice Month, we spoke with Richard Sayles, assistant professor of criminal justice in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Since 2006, Sayles has prepared UA Grantham students for careers in criminal justice. As an experienced professional in the industry, he’s shared with us a few of his biggest takeaways from his time in the field.
I attended Central Missouri University in Warrensburg, Missouri and received a Bachelor’s of Science in Criminal Justice. I then graduated from Park University, in Parkville, Missouri and earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration.
Immediately after I graduated from high school, I got a job as a Civilian Clerk at the Kansas City Missouri Police Department. I had not considered a career path up to that point, but after working at Police Headquarters, I saw the variety and importance of a law enforcement career—and just as important, how enthusiastic and dedicated the officers were. From that point on, I was focused on a career in the criminal justice system.
Just about any career path in the criminal justice system is about personal relationships. You learn how to work with a diverse group of fellow officers, interact effectively with citizens and deal with criminals of a surprising variety. A police officer should have superior oral and written communication skills—particularly oral communication skills. There is a saying that ninety percent of police work is done from the “neck up”. To be a good police officer and keep yourself and others as safe as possible, you need to be able to think your way through some intense situations and understand processes and outcomes in real time.
The Criminal Justice System has many career paths. The system is made up of Corrections, Courts and Law Enforcement in local, state and federal systems. Each of the three parts of the system has career paths for sworn officers and civilians. These career paths range from front line service/enforcement positions to investigative positions and support positions, such as administrative and forensic job classes. It is not uncommon for a person to transfer from one part of the system to another during a career.
If a student chooses to pursue a criminal justice online degree at UA Grantham, they can expect to learn in an up to date environment from industry professionals. They will also likely be in class with current law enforcement practitioners who can pass on relevant real-world information about what being in the criminal justice system is like right now.
American citizens expect the criminal justice system to uphold the values common to all of us. Members of the criminal justice system are expected to know and model the American way of life and make it possible for everyone in the community to go about their lives peaceably, and when necessary, intervene to prevent criminal activity.
The demand for professionals in the criminal justice system is high right now. Most agencies are looking for new ways to attract employees. Again, shop around, look for the best fit for you and know that it may take some time of being in the “system” before you are really comfortable with it.
First of all, spend time with people who are currently in the criminal justice system to find out what they and the jobs they do are really like. Go on “ride a longs” with officers to see what the job is like. Talk with family members to determine if they would support you in this type of a career. If a person is considering a career in the criminal justice system, I would suggest that they become familiar with the full range of career paths available. Take time to investigate local, state and federal agencies to determine which is the best fit for them. If promotion and specialized jobs are an important factor, make sure the agency you are considering has those available. Be willing to transfer from agency to agency and change geographical locations to achieve your goals.