Unprecedented Criminal Justice Reform

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New York witnessed an unprecedented amount of criminal justice reform this past legislative session, yet Governor Andrew Cuomo can provide citizens additional confidence in the administration of justice by signing Bill S4308A into law. This bill highlights a vitally important yet often ignored question: Who is educating the next generation of Criminal Justice professionals?

Due to the retirement laws of New York State, retirees from police departments and other public agencies are not permitted to earn above $30,000 from a public agency within the state without receiving a waiver.

The waiver must be renewed every two years with a full search to ascertain whether or not there are additional qualified individuals who do not require a waiver. This process has had a detrimental effect on public community colleges who are unwilling to sign a waiver. Even if a waiver is signed, the retiree will never be offered tenure as the waiver process requires a full employment search for that position every two years. It is no wonder many retirees elect to work at private colleges.

This waiver system has created educational inequality between public and private colleges that offer criminal justice courses as public colleges are unable to hire the most qualified candidates who are most often retirees from police departments; private colleges can and do hire these same people. Thus, students must pay private college tuition rates to study with the most qualified faculty members.

CUNY and SUNY must offer the same high-quality education as our private colleges, but at an affordable cost to students. This bill closes the “faculty gap” between private and public institutions of higher education in the field of criminal justice and emergency management/fire science. This law is necessary because without it, the public programs will be considered second rate as retired service members, who are frequently the best and most qualified faculty members, will elect to teach at private colleges.

While part-time/adjunct faculty members fill a critical void on college campuses at both public and private colleges, full-time faculty members are needed as they increase persistence-retention-graduation rates with students due to their additional duties of advisement and general availability to students.

The City of New York and State of New York invest a substantial amount of time and money in the training of their first responders (including fire and police officers) to protect life and property. When these first responders retire from public service, some teach full-time at local private colleges and universities where they share their years of experience, knowledge and training with the next generation of first responders. This bill will further the city and state’s investment by permitting service retirees to teach full-time at SUNY and CUNY community colleges.

Only 9 percent of African-American males who take the NYPD police officer exam are hired. The FDNY has a similar record. Retired service members who teach full-time at public colleges will be able to serve as mentors and models to students, most of whom are first generation college students and the first in their families to pursue a career in public service. Mentoring and modeling in the college classroom are necessary to diversify first responders.

Attaining a career in a civil service agency such as a police or fire department is a pathway to middle class life (including home ownership, financial stability, benefits, etc.) criminal justice programs at public colleges generally function as these same pathways. The need to have the most qualified full-time faculty members—some of which must be retirees—is greatest at these institutions and programs.

Criminal justice is the fastest growing college major in the United States. SUNY has 64 campuses offering more than 80 degree programs in the field. These programs are flourishing and need highly qualified, full-time faculty members to educate the next generation of criminal justice practitioners. For many of these programs, the only qualified faculty member is be a retired service member.

The U.S. Department of Labor forecasts positions in fire science and emergency management will be in high demand. SUNY has recognized this trend by announcing volunteer firefighters across NYS are eligible for a free SUNY two-year degree through the SAFER Grant. Qualified faculty members who are retired firefighters with the appropriate educational backgrounds are needed to teach these courses.

New York State has approximately 100 police departments that continuously hire recruits to become police officers. College credits are a requirement for employment which has created a need for college programs in the field. SUNY recognizes this need through 80 different academic programs in the field of criminal justice. The students in these programs deserve the best qualified faculty members, some of which must be retired police officers.
Students educated at CUNY and SUNY who pursue careers in law enforcement, firefighting and emergency management will remain in New York State.

Employing retired professional first responders is a win-win for public colleges and universities. These individuals provide schools with an experience level that cannot be achieved by another means at a fraction of the cost. Additionally, retired professionals would not tax the state system by drawing additional pensions or collecting health benefits, as they are already doing so as part of their retirement.

Robert Costello is chair and professor of criminal justice at SUNY Nassau Community College.

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