FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) - Sitting in class each day, it’s easy for students to become bored with a teacher simply reading out of a text book to prepare for a test.
For students in the award-winning criminal justice program at Fairmont State University under the direction of Dr. John McLaughlin, his stories, experiences and expertise in the field of criminal justice make class anything but boring.
For more than a quarter century, McLaughlin served in law enforcement Miami Dade County in a district known as Liberty City - a district so high in crime that Rockstar Games made a “Grand Theft Auto” video game based off it.
“When you turn on the news to see what’s going on, I was there,” McLaughlin said. “I saw what happened. If there was a shooting, I was at it. If there was a stabbing, I was there.”
Now that he’s retired from active duty, McLaughlin has moved from South Florida to North Central West Virginia and has brought his knowledge and experience with him.
McLaughlin received his bachelor’s degree from Florida State University in the 1980s before taking a job with the Miami Dade Police Department.
After spending two years as a court officer, McLaughlin’s rise in the law enforcement ranks began and went on to include many titles, positions and responsibilities between 1987 and 2013.
First he became a police officer, then a training officer, detective, general investigations officer and eventually corporal.
After being named a corporal, McLaughlin began working in Vice.
“Some people in Miami used to watch ‘Miami Vice.’ I didn’t have to watch it. I was there,” McLaughlin said. “We worked organized crime. We apprehended some Cuban mafia members. After doing that for a year, I was promoted and made sergeant.”
McLaughlin worked at the police academy as a trainer for five years before being promoted to master sergeant and eventually lieutenant.
During all his years in law enforcement in South Florida, McLaughlin stayed busy and his job was not without excitement.
His responsibilities included assignments in fields like customs and coordinating the D.A.R.E. program, but in Miami Dade County during his time, fighting crime on the streets was what McLaughlin enjoyed most.
In true fashion of working in a district that GTA based a game on - a game where the streets and music accurately reflect the actual city, McLaughlin noted - his favorite part of his job was chasing stolen cars and burglars.
“If I didn’t get at least one (car chase) a day I was upset,” McLaughlin said. “I always loved to chase cars, and I had fun. Just like in the game, and although I’ve never played it, I’ve heard all about it.”
Drug usage was high in the area and that, coupled with all other forms of crime, kept him occupied.
“Pretty much every car you stopped, you looked for drugs there,” McLaughlin said. “It was so blatant back then. It was so easy to find criminals. The criminals made themselves known. They were proud of being criminals.”
Finally, as a member of the Economic Crime Bureau, McLaughlin retired as a lieutenant of the mortgage fraud task force where he worked with the FBI and Secret Service.
During many years of his career in law enforcement, McLaughlin also continued his own education.
He earned his master’s degree from Florida International University, a school he eventually wound up teaching at for 12 years.
While he never planned on going to school past his bachelor’s degree, things kept falling into place and he kept furthering his education.
As he began to compile degrees and academic honors, teaching became something that he felt he would not only be able to do, but do in a way that many teachers couldn’t.
“I taught in the academy, and when I got into my master’s, I started to notice that some of these professors didn’t know as much as I did,” he said. “They were telling me stuff that I knew wasn’t true. That’s what made me motivated.
“If they can do this, I can do this because I know it. I’ve been there and done it.”
He went on to explain that while most of his professors learned their material from theories and text books, his came from experience on the same streets and living the same life that the students he would be teaching hoped to work.
“Things on the street are not the same as in the book,” McLaughlin said. “You can’t just categorize people into theories and some of the professors did. Things weren’t like that.”
McLaughlin continued teaching and working his way up the ranks at FIU.
McLaughlin eventually became a member of the Criminal Justice Honor Society and worked his way up to the board of directors.
While serving on the board of directors for the Criminal Justice Honor Society, McLaughlin met Deanna Shields from Fairmont State, who also served on the board around 2001.
“We met twice a year and we competed against each other - our school, FIU, against Fairmont State,” McLaughlin explained. “After I got 25 years on (the police force), I told (Shields) ‘I’m going to start looking for a full-time job teaching.
“She told me ‘that’s interesting because we’re going to have an opening coming up soon.’”
By December, McLaughlin applied for the job at FSU, interviewed for it a month later and eventually got hired.
Now, three years after taking a job at Fairmont State, McLaughlin is enjoying his work, and his students are enjoying the chance to learn from him.
“I think my experience in law enforcement helps because I’ve been there,” McLaughlin said. “I teach from the book, but I also give them stories to go along with the theories.”
Not every student in the criminal justice program wants to become a police officer, and McLaughlin’s experience and knowledge of fields like probation, customs and other law enforcement related areas make him someone the students can relate to, trust and learn from, all while staying engaged and entertained.
“I like the students because they’re young and they’re motivated,” McLaughlin said. “They have a positive attitude because they’re beginning their future.
“I think that this is the best time of their life, and my goal is to get them ready so when they leave here they know what they’re getting into and they know what it’s going to be like.”
Information from: Times West Virginian, https://www.timeswv.com
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