Student Spotlight

University degrees play larger role for law enforcement officers and recruits

November 17, 2014 by Margo Myers

Chief Tony Hernandez

Competition is fierce in the job market, and nowhere is that more true than in the field of law enforcement. As agencies look to hire top candidates, the new Police Chief in Milton, Washington, Tony Hernandez, says obtaining a university degree is of growing importance for job candidates. “The role of education is so important to contemporary policing,” says Hernandez.

“What we’re starting to see is that for sergeants and above, people need to have that bachelor’s degree and beyond. For upper tier management, you need at least a master’s degree.”

Hernandez brings 20 years of experience in law enforcement to his new role as Police Chief in Milton, most recently serving as Jefferson County Sheriff since 2009. He’d been with the Sheriff’s Office there since 2001. Hernandez himself has a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Brandman University.

He explains that trends in policing are changing faster than they ever have, primarily due to the increased use of technology. “Technology is driving change faster than anything else,” he says. “There’s never a point where someone can’t access the internet, and information travels faster than ever.” Policing is becoming a more complex job, too, as law enforcement tools are more technical, and Hernandez likens the inside of a patrol car to a “cockpit of a fighter jet” where officers have to be more educated to interface with those systems.

It’s not just the technical aspect, but having solid ‘people skills’ and knowing how to manage complex teams that lead to success in law enforcement. Having the advanced degree in Organizational Leadership is critical for Hernandez. “The management theories shift from the classroom to the workforce, and are applicable in the real world,” says Hernandez. “The degree definitely gave me the skills to prepare for this role, and having the master’s has allowed me to stay at the top of my game.”

Chief Hernandez is applying the principles he learned at Brandman to help form a strategic plan for the future of the force. “Right now, I am talking to community leaders to get a sense of how they envision their police department,” says Hernandez. “I am also auditing the department to learn what we do well, and what we can do better.”

For people interested in pursuing careers in law enforcement, Hernandez looks for candidates who are motivated, have undertaken personal and professional development, and considers the kind of life experience they bring to the job, in addition to their education. “Officers have to write better reports and they have to stay current with changing laws,” said Hernandez. “Academic standards have been raised.”

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