Beginning this fall, incoming freshmen at the University of North Georgia (UNG) pursuing a bachelor's degree in criminal justice will have the option to simultaneously earn certification from the Georgia Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Council — allowing them to graduate job ready and save thousands of dollars.
UNG is the only public four-year school in Georgia with a public safety academy and one of only a couple of institutions in the nation to offer law enforcement certification within a four-year degree program.
"The development of the POST program provides UNG graduates with multiple opportunities in criminal justice and law enforcement and serves a critical need in fulfilling state law enforcement needs," said Dr. Chris Jespersen, dean of UNG's College of Arts & Letters, which houses the Department of Criminal Justice. "We are excited about what this program will do for our students and the state of Georgia."
Unlike other certification programs and academies, which cost $3,800, the UNG Public Safety Academy is only open to those pursuing a bachelor's degree in criminal justice on the Dahlonega Campus at UNG. Acceptance into UNG's optional academy requires approval by POST and, in addition to tuition and fee costs associated with the degree, carries a $900 fee that includes application and background check expenses, uniform and equipment.
The cost of typical, 11-week POST certification courses sometimes is borne by law enforcement agencies or local governments, who must wait as long as six months for a new hire to be certified as a full officer. Many elect to hire certified or experienced officers instead, making it a tough job market for recent graduates.
Ken Vance, executive director of Georgia POST Council and a 38-year veteran of law enforcement, is an enthusiastic supporter of UNG's Police Academy. The council voted unanimously in June to approve the UNG's academy.
"The commitment by UNG staff and administration and the expertise of Dr. Jennifer Allen and instructors like Butch Newkirk and John Cagle, both law enforcement veterans, are top-notch. I've already sat in on their classes that will be part of this program, and I was really impressed," Vance said. "They know what it takes and that's what makes this program so exciting and so needed in Georgia. This program will establish a professional standard in Georgia that others will aspire to emulate."
Most of the POST-required content already was being taught in UNG courses, said Allen, head of UNG's Department of Criminal Justice, so only minimal curriculum changes were needed.
"The actual course material is blended into their academic course. Our faculty are going to teach what we normally teach, which is scholarship and research, but also POST-mandated material that is blended naturally," said Allen, adding that this means transfer credits in criminal justice courses from other institutions cannot be accepted.
In a typical POST academy, students spend 11 weeks learning 12 critical areas; at UNG, academy students will study all 12 areas, and spend an entire academic course — 16 weeks — studying areas like ethics and use of force, Newkirk said.
Beyond courses required for the degree, students in the UNG Public Safety Academy have to complete additional training, field lab experiences and written examinations after each POST-mandated course. Upon graduating with a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice, academy students will have earned the basic law enforcement mandate certification and additional certifications in Taser, OC spray, ASP baton and patrol rifle.
The program will be cohort-based, with applicants accepted only in fall and spring; Allen estimates 25 to 30 students in each cohort.