Career Talk: Dr. Toni Bland, assistant sheriff, Orange County Sheriff’s Department
Toni Bland, Ed.D., is an assistant sheriff with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. She leads field operations and investigative services, including all street operations, investigations, the crime lab, the coroner’s office and emergency services. During her 27-year career in law enforcement, Bland continued to advance her education, including a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degree and a doctorate in organizational leadership. She was part of the first group of students to earn a doctorate from Brandman University. In this podcast, she talks about her law enforcement career path. For more about Bland and her education, read Learning to lead opens new paths for assistant sheriff
Welcome to Brandman Speaks: Career Talk. In this podcast, Orange County Assistant Sheriff Toni Bland talks about her career and her education including the two degrees she earned from Brandman University.
Thinking about a career in law enforcement started early.
Dr. Toni Bland: Ever since I was young, I wanted to be in law enforcement. For me, it’s kind of a cliché but I wanted to be able to help people, to make or to have an impact on the communities where I live. I live in Orange County and I wanted to be a part of how the community is policed and how citizens are helped. And I also want to have a role in taking bad people off the streets who, you know, cause harm to others.
Bland: My mom joined the Los Angeles Police Department and so I felt that that was a place for me to go work. I decided to get into law enforcement after that. I did apply for the LAPD. I was turned down because I have asthma, joined Orange County Sheriff’s Department and I have not looked back.
Wanting to be in law enforcement doesn’t automatically mean you get to be in law enforcement. Here are some of the steps she had to go through.
Bland: I was initially in the military for about eight years and when I left the military, I applied had a couple different agencies and I was called by Orange County and once I began the process, I was hired in about three months. The hiring process includes a written test, an oral interview, a medical exam, a psychological exam and a background investigation. Once you are hired, you go through a six-month academy program and you learn everything there is to know about policing in the state of California.
The academy comes with its own set of challenges.
Bland: But there were times during the basic academy that I thought I wouldn’t make. It’s pretty grueling physically. There’s a lot to learn in a short period of time. In an Orange County, the academy is a disciplined academy, so there’s a, you know, a lot of yelling and a lot of chaos to get you ready for handling the community. So it was stressful at times. I got through it and I’m happy that I stuck with it.
Her education helped her advance in her career.
Bland: When I hired on to the Sheriff’s Department 27 years ago, I had some college and a high school diploma and because the Sheriff’s Department offers tuition reimbursement I decided to get a bachelor’s degree. And once I did that, I had a couple of assignments, I became an investigator and realized I should know a little bit more about criminal justice and the criminal justice process. So I got a master’s degree in criminal justice. I continued to work. I had a few different jobs, a few more promotions and we got a new sheriff in 2008 and so I went through another master’s program related to organizational leadership to help just expand my knowledge on what’s contemporary in business. After that I decided that I had enough education and continued to work different jobs in the Sheriff’s Department. Recognizing that I was on the end of my career, I thought a doctorate would be helpful in garnering a job in education when I was done and decided to get an Ed.D from Brandman a couple years ago.
Does she have advice for others seeking a similar career?
Bland: I would say, if you are interested in a career in criminal justice, to do some research on agencies. There are municipal agencies in the cities. There are sheriff’s departments in each county. Sheriff’s departments tend to be large with a lot of opportunity for advancement and movement, as opposed to a municipal agency, which is smaller and opportunities may not be as great. So decide, you know, what your career goals are within the profession and then find an agency that’s a good fit for you, not just any-place agency. If the person interested in the profession can get a bachelor’s degree prior to going into law enforcement, it’s probably a good idea. It’s a competitive hiring process. We probably hire four from every hundred that apply. I would also recommend, you know, no traffic tickets. Keep your background clean. Don’t, you know, use recreational drugs or anything like that. And if you decide you want to get in the profession and you haven’t complete your degree, you can do it once you’ve completed the academy.
All careers have their challenges but a career in criminal justice comes with more stress points than most, including physical and mental demands in a very public role. In Orange County in recent years that also includes adjusting to a new sheriff with a much different approach than the previous one. Here’s her advice for those facing changes at work.
Bland: First and foremost I attend programs like Brandman offers in organizational leadership and stay contemporary with what’s happening generally in the business world and then I do my best to remain flexible. I think that while people don’t like change, it’s important to grow and change as part of that process. So in the law enforcement profession, it’s always changing. Laws change. Sometimes leadership changes, and it’s important to stay flexible, to stay current on what’s happening around the state and to offer advice where it’s needed and to just be a good role model.
At Brandman, we know how important it is to connect to other people in similar careers. Students and alumni are encouraged to connect with Career Services to seek guidance and to be available to others as mentors.
Look for the career services link on the brandman.edu home page or on the student page of my.brandman.edu. Brandman Speaks: Career Talk is a production of the Communications Department of Brandman University. More information about the university can be found at brandman.edu. Additional podcasts, videos and stories about the students, faculty and staff of Brandman University can be found at nimbler.brandmannews.sachiel.xyz. Podcasts are also available on iTunes.
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