Did you know that not one but two female alumni from the Department of Sociology are chiefs of police of major U.S. cities, including Kim Jacobs right here in Columbus and Shelley Zimmerman in beautiful San Diego, California? In this newsletter we ask Chief Jacobs how a degree in sociology from Ohio State prepared her for one of the most challenging jobs in America today (we’ll include a profile of Chief Zimmerman in our next newsletter):
How did your degree in sociology prepare you to be a patrol officer?
My college education and degree both helped me better understand the dynamics of the population I was trying to serve after graduation. During the academy, and in the field, my degree and the tests associated allowed me to respond to questions and tests with a deeper knowledge base.
How do you use your sociology background in a leadership role?
It has been important to assist me in always understanding the role of the police in society and how people act in general. They have different needs, some are based on culture and circumstances and many other factors. So serving communities with that knowledge has helped me to make decisions in their interest.
What have been some of the biggest changes in the relationship between your police division and the communities or neighborhoods you serve and how has your background in sociology / criminal justice prepared you to respond to these changes?
While there is still a high level of support from most people for the police, there is a much louder message being sent from a smaller segment of society about a lack of trust in the police more so than in the past. People are being persuaded through the media, social media and their friends that the police are the enemy and protesting against them, many from a position of no true understanding of law, rules and methods necessary to get the job done. The schism is concerning and troubling especially when it turns to violence. My education helps in knowing that there has always been dissent going on in our country and that is something that makes our nation the land of the free. It is important nonetheless to work to close the gap in trust, and give people an opportunity to get more informed about the actual dedication modern police officers have to their work. My education tells me that today's police officers are the best they have ever been; they are more open-minded, more compassionate, better-trained and disciplined. This is information that needs to be shared and learned by those who don't realize what a great job the majority of officers do for them.
In what ways has your background in sociology / criminal justice inform how you interact with different constituencies? Neighborhoods, the police union, government officials, the press, etc.
Stakeholders come from a variety of cultures, backgrounds, interests, ambitions, responsibilities and educations. Because of my education in sociology, I know that one size does not fit all but sincerity is always important. Truth and accountability resonate with and are expected from leaders and are apparent most of the time.
Is there room for sociology and criminal justice in crafting new policy procedures?
Sure, if the policies and procedures are consistent with the mission that needs to be accomplished and the advice is well-informed. Some things need to be updated and changed over time as we learn what works and what doesn't. But there are other things that more stable and are based on law etc. Being responsive to new research, and trying new methods is important to staying current and progressive but we can't change willy-nilly without good justification. The work officers do is too dangerous to expect them to get dictated a new policy by people who don't understand the dynamics of their work. Asking them to shoot someone in the arm or leg is still a very frequent request I hear and it is unreasonable based on current weaponry and situations they are put in. Society doesn't all have the same goals-some want laws to be enforced and some want to do whatever they feel like-and/or people to not go to jail-even though the law calls for such punishment. So, ultimately, the people responsible for overseeing the work of officers, such as chiefs and mayors, have to be the ones who agree with new policies and procedures to ensure they are reasonable, can be implemented and are in the best interest of what society expects and officer safety.
In this time and space – with so much animosity or polarization between the police and minority communities, how can the field of sociology and criminal justice help bridge this divide and move us forward?
Research exists to explain human performance capabilities, but more can be done. Officers face every societal problem that exists and they must be multi-talented without knowing if the situation is a mental health crisis, a drug-induced behavior, a terroristic attack or just a communications issue. The person walking down the street with a rifle in open-carry fashion, could 10 seconds later be the next active threat in a mall. The demand for perfection in decision making is understandable but impossible. Research, science and education is a full-time need and the police have many tasks already-. More public support from people outside of policing is important because in the void of such support or information, people seek it from unreliable sources.
What would you tell a class of undergraduates studying sociology or criminal justice? What do you want them to bring to policing?
Bring intelligence, compassion, courage, character and be willing to sacrifice. This is a field full of dedicated people who want to help others and it is worth all the headaches-but there will be headaches, injury and trauma. Society needs the police to be the go-between for those who need safety in their homes and cities and those who would try to harm them. Bring a passion to doing something important in their life.