Becoming a police officer is not easy. The screening process is rigorous, the tests extensive. It’s a procedure designed to ensure only the most committed join the force.
But graduating with a UNI criminology major is proving to be a critical first step. This year, when the Cedar Falls Police Department hired new officers, four of the eight officers brought on were UNI grads.
“We have a lot of success with our officers from UNI,” said Capt. Mark Howard, who also teaches as an adjunct professor in the criminology program. “Not everyone makes it through our training program, but our UNI graduates tend to do really well, especially those who focus on the criminal justice classes.”
The CFPD now has 21 UNI graduates in the department, which is almost 40 percent of its force, Howard said.
One of those new hires is Marissa Abbott, who graduated this spring. Abbott was drawn to the field after speaking with her uncle, who works for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, about his experiences in the field.
“Law enforcement has always been appealing to me,” Abbott said. “The idea of being able to interact with citizens in the community and be there for them when they need it the most was a big reason for my decision to pursue it.”
She started working for the CFPD in April 2018 as a part-time community service officer. She said she immediately loved the department and her co-workers.
“What I admire most about the department is their willingness to help new employees and officers gain success,” Abbott said. “The officers at the Cedar Falls Police Department will go out of their way to assist you in any way in order for you to succeed, regardless of the position you hold with the department.”
Now that she’s graduated, Abbott will start the 16-week Iowa Law Enforcement Academy in Johnson, Iowa. Upon graduation from the academy, she will start her field training at the CFPD and begin her career as a public safety officer.
And through it all, she will be using the skills she acquired at UNI.
The criminology program is a mix of course work and hands-on experience, said Kimberly Baker, associate professor and internship coordinator with the department of sociology, anthropology, and criminology. Internships are not required but are highly encouraged. “The internship program at Cedar Falls [Police Department] is really well structured,” Baker said. “It’s designed for students to see several different parts of the organization. They get to go on patrol, they also get to go to see what an investigation is like, see a little of the crime lab and learn about the paperwork and processing.”
The experience makes UNI criminology graduates a prized commodity for police departments, Baker said.
“When I call around, I’m hearing that our students are preferred compared to students coming out of two-year programs and students coming out of our sister schools,” Baker said. “Our students are just better prepared.”
For more information about UNI's Criminology program, visit csbs.uni.edu/sac/criminology. Learn more about the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology's field experience program at csbs.uni.edu/sac/sac-internships.