In recent months, police leaders across the State have been faced with social unrest and efforts to defund the police. The problem has been compounded by an exodus of officers frustrated by the lack of public support. The issues and pressures being placed upon police leaders are not unprecedented.  Similar calls for changed occurred in the 1960’s.  While change is inevitable, many of the current proposals will prove to not be practical.

Regardless, in order to successfully address these issues, agencies must have highly qualified, educated individuals who will be able to perform to the public’s evolving standards. To successfully attract these individuals, agencies must expand their recruiting efforts and engage in new, more strategic approaches.  

One of the best ways to find these candidates is to search in areas they are more likely to be found.  One such location is colleges and universities with criminal justice programs.  These programs offer a unique source of highly qualified individuals who have spent their formative years developing the skills required to excel in their chosen profession. Currently, there are 58 colleges and universities in Georgia that offer a variety of certificate, diploma, and degree programs ranging from an associate to doctorate.

The benefits of college educated officers have been recognized for years to include:

  • Better Ethical Decision-Making
  • Greater Oral and Written Communication Skills
  • Less Likely to Use Force
  • More accepting of Diversity and Cultural Awareness
  • More Adaptable to Administrative Change
  • Understand Civil Rights Issues from Different Perspectives
  • Increased Creativity and
    Problem Solving Skills
  • Decreased Dogmatism, Authoritarianism, and Rigidity
  • Understanding of the Law and Courts 1

The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police has developed a comprehensive listing of every criminal justice program in the state. 

The list can be accessed at the following link: 
2021 Criminal Justice Programs in Georgia 

Technical College System of Georgia

Over the last decade there has been a huge increase in criminal justice programs within the Technical College System to meet the demands of criminal justice organizations. These schools have been on the leading edge of this initiative, providing a variety of educational opportunities including certificates, diplomas and associate degrees. Some colleges are also offering certificates in specialty areas such as crime scene technology and criminal justice technology. It is important to note a large number of technical colleges are located in smaller, rural areas.  While broad generalizations are never suggested, it is likely to assume many students may desire the quality of life offered in smaller communities.

One of the metrics for many of these programs is student employment in their chosen field upon graduation. Because of this, program leaders welcome the opportunity to build strong relationships with agencies, share recruiting materials, and sponsor networking opportunities.

The Georgia Northwestern Technical College offers criminal justice certificates, diplomas and degrees. In addition, the college also sponsors a police academy that requires 700 hours training as compared with 408 in state-sponsored academies. After graduating from the academy, individuals need only complete 1 to 2 semesters to obtain an associate degree.  Northwestern Technical College Police Academy Director James Pledger said, “the program is essentially a fast track to earning an associate degree”. 

As part of their academy, students attend firearms and EVOC training one day a week for an entire 16-week semester instead of compressing it into one week. Director Pledger added because they had more time to spend with the students, he felt they were turning out a better product and “agencies are hiring them as soon as they come out of the academy”.

South Georgia Technical College in Americus also sponsors a police academy where graduates may receive credit from their academy classes toward an associate degree.  The academy staff have found that about one-half of their graduates received their associate degree in criminal justice through the college’s on-line program. In addition, the technical college’s credits are transferrable to most of the colleges in the University System of Georgia as well as private universities such as Mercer University.

University System of Georgia

Colleges and university programs under the University System of Georgia still emphasize concepts and theories that guide public policy decisions. Many of these programs require students to participate in an internship with a police agency during their last year. Still, some these programs are placing increased focus on transitioning toward being more relevant for the employment market.

One of the State’s outstanding criminal justice programs is located at the University of North Georgia.  UNG Criminal Justice Department Head, Dr. Douglas Orr, said several years ago program leaders recognized the need to make their program more competitive.  To accomplish this, they created several approaches for students to obtain a degree.  As a result of these initiatives, the program has grown to the third largest at the university with 600 to 800 students.  

Some students choose to obtain an associate degree at one of their satellite campuses. About one-third to one-half of the students working toward earning a bachelor’s degree are cadets in the University’s military cadet program. These cadets are seeking a military commission upon graduation. After completing four years of service, many will leave the military to join a variety of criminal justice agencies at local, state, and federal levels.

However, the program’s marquee program enables students to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice along with their Georgia POST certification. To participate in this program, students must begin the four-year program at their main campus in Dahlonega.

As students progress though their curriculum, they complete practical labs in the academy.  

The University of North Georgia’s Public Safety Academy hosts two academy classes of 32 students each year with one beginning in January (Spring Session) and the other in August (Fall). The academy is self-contained within the university and includes the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Emergency Vehicle Operators Course (EVOC) where they train cadets on the standard cone course as well as urban pursuit. 

They also have firearm simulators to support proper use of a weapon prior to live-fire training on the range as well as extensive judgmental use of force/shooting. Students spend 1 to 1 ½ hours a day on simulators for 16 weeks (80 hours). This is supported by an additional 40 hours of live fire training on the range.

Students receive 80 hours report writing that is provided in one hour increments every day over 16 weeks. In addition to their Basic Certification, graduates also receive certifications for: Standardized Field Sobriety, ASP Baton, RADAR/LIDAR, TASER, and Patrol Rifle Familiarization. Students seeking to specialize in forensics can obtain a minor in crime scene and forensic analysis by attending two academic classes. Practical exercises are conducted at academy’s in-house crime scene processing facility.  

Academy Director Butch Newkirk said, “It’s an amazing thing.” Essentially, each student receives about 2 ½ years of hands-on education and training.  Beginning in their freshman year students are required to attend weekly in-service training where they receive an average of 20 hours of POST credit each year. Police leaders have noted the “graduates are well-educated, understand the theory, as well as the practical aspects of the job.”

In their final semester, students are required to complete an internship. Since students have already received their POST certification, a number of agencies are hiring the students and utilize the 16-week field training program as their internship. 

Dr. Orr said, “at their most recent academy graduation, one student was sworn in on the stage by the department that had hired them.”

In the end, a police organization can only be as good as the people they hire. With increased challenges to the status-quo, leaders have a responsibility to seek alternative approaches to attract high quality candidates. Reaching out to highly educated and trained individuals is critical to accomplishing this expectation. Georgia’s colleges and universities offer a rich source of individuals who can fill this need.