- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2007

William Powell, a 17-year veteran of the District’s Metropolitan Police Department, sits with crossed arms and a skeptical expression at the opening session of a class titled Crisis, Emergency and Risk Management. It is one of 15 courses in George Washington University’s challenging, groundbreaking police science program, available exclusively to local law enforcement professionals.

“If you haven’t done it, you have no business telling me about it,” Mr. Powell answers, in part, when the professor questions the group about their expectations for the class that offers four of the 60 credits in the bachelor’s degree curriculum. (An associate’s degree, requiring fewer credits, also is offered.)

Students include detectives and officers of various ranks in both the police department and the Metropolitan Transit Authority plus an analyst from Interpol who says she signed up to “learn something new.”

Their teacher is youthful-looking Frederic Lemieux, 32, a French Canadian who is the program’s director as well as a GWU associate professor of sociology. He arrives in an open-collared white shirt carrying dinner from Burger King. His casual appearance is deceptive, belying a formal, well-structured approach to the subject.

Mr. Lemieux’s doctoral dissertation, written in French, he tells the class, was about “Crime During Disaster” — what happened during a 1988 ice storm in Quebec. The storm caused a power outage that lasted nearly a month. Mr. Lemieux deftly relates it to U.S. Homeland Security problems in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

By the end of three hours, he seemingly has won over any students who had been wondering whether their investment of time and money in the course would prove worthwhile. Both of these are considerable, even though the university has set up scholarships in honor of Walter E. Washington, the city’s first mayor, to cut in half the normal undergraduate tuition rate for enrollees. (The total figure for tuition and fees for the bachelor’s degree normally is $33,315.) Additionally, the police department gives $800 toward fall and spring semesters to any of its participating members, and the transit agency offers tuition reimbursement up to $1,500 a semester.

While participating in the GWU program, Mr. Powell, of Upper Marlboro, also is taking general education classes online from Prince George’s Community College. Inspired by Stephanie Heyward, a close friend who is one of the program’s first three bachelor’s degree graduates, he says later that he expects the degree to help him plan his future — even after retirement from the force.

Ms. Heyward, also of Upper Marlboro, has been a District police officer for seven years. She calls the program “awesome” and says, “I couldn’t think of a better one strictly for law enforcement personnel.” Fifty percent of what she learned applies daily, she notes, and 50 percent was valuable “for moving to the next level.” She is attending graduate school at the University of Maryland, working toward a master’s degree with a concentration in homeland security.

Yusuf Norris of Arlington, another 2007 program graduate and a five-year employee of the Hazardous Devices Section of the U.S. Capitol Police, hopes eventually to move up the ranks. The program, he says, “gives a steppingstone to learning what leaders need to know.” Acknowledging what he calls “a big difference between the classroom and practical experience,” he remarks that “70 percent of classes are taught by law enforcement officers from different agencies so they could relate to us firsthand.”

Edward Coates of Upper Marlboro, an evidence technician with the Metro Transit Police Department, is the third 2007 graduate. Among other things, he credits the program with enabling him “to interact with other officers of other departments at various levels.” Class colleagues included representatives of the Secret Service, GWU campus police and the U.S. Park Police.

It’s too soon to gauge the effectiveness of the four-year-old program, says Jeff Delinski, deputy chief of the Metropolitan Transit Police Department, who was consulted about its formation.

“But you can draw some conclusions based on the curriculum,” he says, “and you can say that a better educated police department will better serve the community and our customers, that a more educated police officer is better equipped to do his or her job.”

At the very least, the existence of the police science program, housed under GWU’s College of Professional Studies, reflects a trend emphasizing more and better education for anyone entering law enforcement.

“It’s not just a patrol officer walking a beat with a billy club. It’s more complicated than ever when you look at terrorism and cyber-crime; the technology [alone] is complicated,” says Deputy Chief Delinski, who holds a master’s degree in management from Johns Hopkins University’s Police Executive Leadership Program. He teaches a stress and time-management course required of all GWU police science program students.

Students have what Mr. Lemieux calls “a lot of technical training on crisis management about handling devices,” but “they don’t have enough in management concept — getting the big picture, the strategic side, about how to think in a crisis. It is the objective in my class.”

GWU’s approach focuses on five major areas, he says: understanding crime patterns and their relation to the U.S. criminal justice system; communications; leadership matters; ethical dimensions of police work; and special issues, touching on present and future trends as well as comparative police systems overseas.

The so-called Capstone Project that is the finale of each student’s studies takes place at a site near Rockville where students spend several days participating in a mock crisis situation and are judged on how they apply knowledge learned in class. This year’s simulation asked them to imagine the London bombing event transferred to the District.

Six GWU schools were involved in developing the program, Mr. Lemieux says, and a national online program soon will be under way.

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