The University of Guelph-Humber is in the vanguard for the new kind of public service professional.

The university’s Justice Studies branch offers the Justice and Public Safety Degree Completion Program for working professionals in those work fields. Students enrolled in the program must already have a college diploma and at least three years of full-time work experience in a public service field.

On the program’s webpage, a statement from Justice Studies Program Head Dr. Gary Ellis reads “in just the last few years, we’ve seen a demand emerge for degree level credentials, most relevant knowledge base and critical thinking abilities to complement traditional skills. We have higher expectations of our justice system today, and of all those working within it. What we’re seeing is a new kind of justice professional.”

Assistant Program Head for Justice Studies at Guelph-Humber Dr. Glenn Hanna added, “the government is really pushing the idea of all public services becoming integrated and working together. We’re sort of leading the charge on that for post-secondary education.”

The intent of the program is not only the student to earn a degree – in this case, a Bachelor of Applied Arts specialization in Justice & Public Safety – but to make that person more effective in their job.

Dr. Hanna commented that “this is not a program designed to teach people how to do their job. We give you additional tools that make you more effective in your job. It’s really looking at increasing your understanding of how the world operates. And how the workplace operates. There’s a lot of theoretical things as well: leadership issues, budgeting issues, ethics and public administration.”

When asked how the students in the program were making advances in the field, Dr. Hanna recounted an interaction that a student had told him. Dr. Hanna said that the student; a police constable, told him about an arrest they made over the previous weekend.

After the arrest occurred and prisoner transport left the scene, the constable returned to their cruiser. But before he left, in-class discussions popped up in the constable’s mind.

After some deliberation, the constable decided that there must be more facts about the incident than he currently knew. The constable then returned to the scene to re-interview certain sources. With the new information, the constable wrote a supplementary report which led to the charges being diverted from a criminal court to a mental health court.

“That’s not teaching someone to do their job, it’s giving them tools that help them do their job more effectively,” said Dr. Hanna.

When the program began in the mid-2000s, it was focused primarily on policing. In recent years, the curriculum has spread its range to include paralegals, youth councillors, corporate security, court officers, special officers and anything to do with the justice system at large. Dr. Hanna cites the program’s expansion is due to the increased expectations for police services, fire services and EMS throughout the years.

Starting from just over a year ago, the program again spread to include a wider field of public safety, including fire services, EMS and other kinds of emergency responders.

The program combines both online and in-class material in its curriculum. This split allows students to still participate in class while working as the classes are held on the weekends.

Dr. Hanna added, “we’re about seventy per cent online, but that 30 per cent in class is very powerful. Helps you form networks, helps you see eye to eye with your professors.”

Dr. Hanna pointed out that communication through little things like body language helps the professor gage how well students are understanding the material, which is something that can’t be replicated in strictly online teaching scenarios.

“It’s (in-class time) particularly useful because we’ve had corrections officers giving a presentation, and police officer would say ‘wait a minute, you do what? you have access to – what?’ We’ve actually seen cases solved in class through that kind of networking and relaxed discussion you get.”

Dr. Hanna brought up an in-class experience where the students were covering the capture of a particular serial killer. A student was the lead investigator on that case – he conducted the investigation, did the interrogation and collected the evidence. When that student asked Dr. Hanna if he could talk about that in class, Dr. Hanna encouraged him to share his experience with his peers.

Dr. Hanna said that the course can be taken for students to aid in switching careers or in pursuing a promotion at their current job.

Officer Asim Ansari, a current student of the program, is one such working professional pursuing advancement. Officer Ansari works for the Peel Regional Police Court Services Bureau. He is taking this program, which was recommended to him by his employer, with the intention of applying for a management position following graduation.

“The hybrid program is an excellent delivery system for course materials for working professionals. I have learned a lot academically. More so ever I have met other justice professionals and built my network, and going to class for one weekend every six weeks is not that bad,” said Officer Ansari, currently working two full-time jobs while also being a father.