Growing Courage and Adaptability
through Education

by Thomas Dworak, Sgt. (Ret.), Virtus Group

These are challenging times for those who have chosen to study criminal justice and to make law enforcement their career. While you serve and protect, others are quick to criticize your every action. Everyone, from the media to politicians, believes they know how to do your job. The criticisms are not new nor are the calls for reform.

The events in Ferguson (Mo.) and New York are similar to the Rodney King incident in the early 1990's. Proposed solutions call for more training, body cameras and a rush to create additional oversight in the form of new laws or citizen oversight. While these suggestions are well intended, where is the data that supports that these solutions will work?

There will always be law enforcement and corrections officers, but if we do not address these current issues they will be decided for us.

Learn more about our criminal justice programsMen and women in law enforcement are very creative individuals. Focused, innovative solutions, founded in research, will guide us through the challenges we are facing. Who will lead us to find these solutions? The answer is you. The next question is how? By expanding your knowledge and challenging yourself by obtaining a law enforcement degree in criminal justice. Knowing what has been tried before is an important part of finding solutions and a degree in criminal justice education will provide that background. Sir Robert Peel's nine principles of policing are as applicable today as they were in the 1800's--but they could be improved on.

We have come a long way in how we train our law enforcement and corrections officers, though we can always do better. Each successive generation of law enforcement and corrections officers leaves their mark on the criminal justice profession. Be a change agent and help lead the next cultural shift with a criminal justice career.

There were many times in my career when I was taught a technique or skill which looked good when the trainer demonstrated it but left me wondering how I would use it on the street in an active environment. As law enforcement professionals we need documented, research-based training to guide us into the future. A criminal justice degree will give you a solid base and drive you to ask, "That sounds right but where is the research?"

Obtaining a criminal justice degree will provide personal and professional development, along with a feeling of pride and accomplishment.

I was selected by my agency to become a use of force instructor. My agency's use of force commander had an idea that at the time was not widely accepted in law enforcement. The concept was to cross-train our instructors in all aspects of force response. The commander wanted to develop a core group of instructors who could teach control tactics, firearms, and less-lethal weapons use. Being first, I knew I was going to be asked to make recommendations to the commander about the training, both in applicability and content. I attended many hours of use of force instruction in firearms, physical skills, control techniques, less-lethal munitions, constitutional law and more. Only a few of the training programs had research to back up their instruction.

When my initial training was completed, I was asked to develop a defensive tactics program. I used documented research to show how the program selected was legally, tactically and medically the right choice for the department. The rigors of completing a research project for my bachelor’s degree and thesis for my master's degree taught me how to examine concepts with a critical eye and find accurate information to support and defend my recommendations.

Now is the time to sharpen the saw. Obtaining a criminal justice degree will provide personal and professional development, along with a feeling of pride and accomplishment. A criminal justice degree will impart the ‘why’ to go with the ‘how’ you already perform. Be a change agent in law enforcement. Stop thinking "I'm just a…," get your degree in criminal justice and help lead the change into the future.


Sgt. Thomas Dworak served the Wilmette, Il Police Department for 31 years in a wide variety of assignments. Now retired, Sgt. Dworak is a consultant for The Virtus Group ( providing adaptive leadership training to Law Enforcement and Corrections Officers through the Growing Courage leadership program.