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Joseph Heinrich

On the first day of class, I ask my criminal justice students, “Who wants to be a police officer?” Almost every hand goes up. I can sense their enthusiasm. They often tell me they want to help people and “make a difference”. As the semester progresses and we discuss some of the challenging issues facing today’s police, I ask the same question. Thankfully, many of the same hands go up. They are still enthusiastic; however, they are now beginning to understand just how tough the job of policing can be. Being a police officer is difficult. Becoming a police officer isn’t any easier and this is where Waubonsee Community College makes a difference.

The path to entering the police profession is extremely competitive. Police executives around the country are constantly striving to recruit highly qualified police officers, often from the same pool of applicants, and are unwilling to settle for average candidates. Subsequently, applicants who set themselves apart from the pack are more likely to be hired. One of the best ways to prepare for this challenging and (hopefully) rewarding journey is to obtain a degree in criminal justice.

The minimum educational requirement for police officers in Illinois is a high school diploma or equivalent. Some police departments require certain levels of college education however, most do not. Most federal law enforcement agencies (i.e., FBI, DEA) require a four-year degree. With the diverse education requirements, applicants with a college education will have far more opportunities when it comes to applying for law enforcement jobs.

Students at Waubonsee Community College can enroll in a variety of criminal justice courses including corrections, criminology, criminal law, juvenile justice and the American court system. Our Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees with an emphasis in criminal justice easily transfer to many popular schools including Western Illinois University and Aurora University.

At Waubonsee Community College, we constantly strive to set our criminal justice students up for success. In addition to obtaining their associate degree, we want our students to enter the profession fully aware of the demands and personal sacrifices it requires. Our staff and faculty include active and retired municipal police officers and county correctional officers. We bring years of knowledge and practical experience to the classroom and that translates to a more realistic understanding of police work especially compared to the fictional world portrayed by the entertainment industry.

The Criminal Justice Program is one of the oldest programs at Waubonsee Community College, and our graduates are represented in nearly every law enforcement agency in the Fox Valley including Chiefs of Police and County Sheriffs. One recent graduate was hired by the Dallas, Texas Police Department.

The Illinois employment outlook in the police occupation is good. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2018 that Illinois had the fifth-highest police officer employment level in the country (30,370 officers) and also the fifth-highest annual mean wage for police officers ($75,720).

In recent years high profile police cases have brought considerable harmful national attention to the profession. Unfortunately, this has discouraged many qualified individuals from pursuing a career in law enforcement. However, the tide is changing and the police profession is enjoying a significant upturn in public confidence. In a 2018 Gallup poll looking at 15 U.S. institutions, the police came in third behind the military and small business.

The hiring process can be arduous, and students considering the profession will need to be prepared to meet the challenge and rigor it will present. The applicant’s physical and mental fitness will be evaluated along with their character. It is common for the testing process to include a very thorough background investigation, a physical fitness test, a psychological exam, a polygraph exam, and an oral interview with a panel of hiring authorities.

Once hired, Illinois police officers will attend a demanding 14-week basic police training academy. The academies are quasi-military in nature and involve strict rules and requirements. Upon successful completion of the academy, officers will be assigned to a field training officer for several months of intensive training and evaluation before being allowed to work alone. It is common for new police officers to be on probation for their initial 18 months of employment.

In order to help prepare our students for success at the academy, our students are provided the opportunity every semester to take the Police Officer Wellness Evaluation Report, commonly referred to as the POWER Test. This is a physical fitness test that every police recruit in Illinois must pass in order to successfully complete the basic police training academy. Many municipalities also require applicants to pass the POWER Test prior to being hired. Students that take the test immediately learn if they meet the physical fitness standards. If they don’t, they will know where they need to improve. We don’t want a student to miss out on a dream job because of one sit-up.

The criminal justice program at Waubonsee also incorporates a use of force simulator identical to those used by police trainers. After classroom instruction on the use of force statutes, case law and basic firearms safety rules, students are given the opportunity to participate in realistic, tense scenarios designed to test their knowledge and decision-making skills. This experience safely exposes students to the nature of police training and the stressful situations often encountered in the field.

Our criminal justice instructors at Waubonsee Community College recognize that police work is not easy and it’s not for everyone. However, for students who are willing to accept the challenge to become professional police officers, the rewards are limitless. I can think of no better way to help people and make a difference in our community, and no better place to start than Waubonsee Community College. Visit to learn more about the options and opportunities that are available.

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