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Brady Butler, Director
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Pittsburgh, PA – February 10, 2011 -- La Roche College’s accelerated criminal justice degree program has grown from eight students in the fall of 2009 to 31 in academic year 2010-11.

The popularity of television series like “CSI” and “Law and Order” may account for some of the interest. Word-of-mouth and the diligent work of the La Roche recruiters have raised the visibility of the program, too. Twenty-eight presentations to officers representing 45 police departments have been made throughout southwestern Pennsylvania in the last six months alone. As a result, the law enforcement officers in the La Roche program are a diverse group representing a variety of police work as well as professional backgrounds. They include homicide detectives, county canine patrol, community college security, male, female, seasoned officers, and new hires. But they all report similar stories when they describe why they decided to pursue this popular degree at La Roche – professional advancement, schedule flexibility and credit for on-the-job experience.

Current or prior law enforcement officers in the criminal justice field receive 48 credits based upon their Act 120 Certification or its equivalent and five years of full-time work experience in the field. Many courses are taught in an 8-week accelerated format that is cohort based with on-line, classroom and blended course options. A student can graduate from the accelerated program with a BA in Criminal Justice and a minor in another academic field within six semesters and one summer session. Students with an associate’s degree and/or academic credit from other institutions are evaluated on an individual basis.

Professors Lawrence Likar, J.D., M.A., C.P.P., and Robert Mitchell, M.A, have been instrumental in crafting a curriculum and class schedule that mesh with the demands of an on-call, round-the-clock, truly non-traditional career and lifestyle. Likar is chair of the La Roche Department of Justice, Law and Security and a nationally recognized authority on violent crime and terrorism. Likar and Mitchell, an assistant professor, were supervisory agents with the FBI and have more than 50 years of combined experience in criminal investigation. The reputation of the La Roche department in the criminal justice field has attracted notable faculty such as Judge Robert J. Colville and defense attorney Robert Leight, also a former FBI agent who has been a federal and local prosecutor.

  The La Roche courses were developed based on this experience and input from La Roche Ph.D.s in arts and sciences as well as discussions with experts at the FBI’s Quantico, Va., crime lab facility and Allegheny County’s crime lab. The students themselves add to the resources of the program. For example, one of Mitchell’s students brought a $10,000 infrared camera to a class learning to process a crime scene. Together with counterparts in biology and chemistry at La Roche – Gail Rowe, Ph.D., Roberta Hartman, Ph.D. and Don Fujito, Ph.D. – they also develop programs that offer students other hands-on experiences with the same high-tech instrumentation used by law enforcement, biologists and chemists in today’s modern forensic laboratories.

“To be truthful,” confesses Pittsburgh homicide detective Joe Cirigliano, “I thought at first this program would be a nightmare but it turned out to be easy with all of the help available.” He adds, “As a police officer, I do not really have a set work schedule or family schedule. The online class helps because I can do my class work when I find the time. Otherwise, I would not be able to go to an actual class with my schedule. Though the course work is demanding, I am able to get everything completed.”

Faculty and staff helped Joe apply credits for past school and work experiences, which he said “really helped me to decide to pursue the degree at La Roche. That support provided another plus. “Since I have not been in school for a very long time,” Cirigliano said,” I was having a few problems adjusting. Ms. Miller and Dr. Irene Joos got me on the right track quickly.”

The extra effort it takes to “get everything done” pays off in the long run. Joe reports that “I have been using what I’ve learned already, everyday, which makes my work much easier and more professional.”

Maria Watts, an Allegheny County deputy sheriff, has a unique position. First of all, she’s one of only three female officers in all of Allegheny County who work in canine units. Her “partner” Bob is a German shepherd true to the name -- he only takes commands in the language in which he learned them – German!

Watts went to college off and on over the years – originally majoring in music -- but didn’t have a strong enough interest in any one field to keep her engaged. She’s lived out of town and worked at various jobs. After returning to Pittsburgh, she spotted a posting for a position with the Allegheny County sheriff’s office. She recalls being fascinated by police work since high school. She applied, tested well and was hired! She and Bob, a bomb dog, have been together for five of her 13 years on the force. They spend each work day checking the many Allegheny County buildings downtown – courtrooms and other areas accessible to the public – to ensure safety. They respond as needed in Pennsylvania Emergency Management Association (PEMA)’s Region 13 (Allegheny and twelve other counties), and for special events like Steelers games and the recent National Hockey League Winter Classic.

Like other officers in the La Roche accelerated criminal justice program, Watts saw the value of a degree for career advancement but was reluctant to apply given her previous school experiences. Her schedule and limited free time posed additional concerns. But she saw that her colleagues with children were making college work. She decided to give it a try. Her husband, also a canine officer, encouraged her.

“The La Roche program is ideal for law enforcement schedules,” Watts said. “I was able to start with a couple classes, mixing evening sessions with online classes. I also took advantage of the summer schedule. The faculty and staff are extremely flexible – offering a range of days to take tests, for example.”

Watts reports that she is already applying what she has learned. “My writing skills have definitely improved – not only is it easier to compose an incident report, but I can also more clearly articulate requests,” she notes. She has found that courses in the rule of law and international justice present a broader context for her daily responsibilities. “It helps to know why we do what we do and what systems are important.”

Her positive experience has her thinking about a master’s degree.

Scott Richardson’s 15-year career includes jobs as a deputy sheriff, a municipal police officer and a campus security guard. He and his wife have two young children.

Currently he is the officer in charge of the Butler County Community College Police Department, but found himself at a standstill professionally. Richardson’s strong background provided what it took to be considered for a major promotion – except for one requirement – a bachelor’s degree.

Passed over for that job, he was determined not to let that happen again. He researched many local college programs but was won over by the first impression a La Roche recruiter made. The accelerated criminal justice program offered the answer to his concerns about balancing a demanding job, shift work, a growing family and a 40-mile commute.

La Roche accepted all of his associate degree credits from BCCC.

Professors Mitchell and Likar helped Richardson manage work conflicts such as court appearances around his class schedule. His psychology professor Dr. Barbara Herrington made it possible to complete a research project in the summer, largely via email. He credits instructor and noted Pittsburgh City Police statistician John Warren with his ability to now use crime statistics to track patterns of crime and to help make a case for hiring appropriate staff. “I also learned real-life ‘tricks of the trade,’ for example in fingerprinting, which enhanced the textbook lessons,” Richardson said.

What’s more, Richardson also was able to apply his professional experience directly to class work. To illustrate a lesson he brought equipment to class to give his fellow students actual field demonstrations. “I was able to help new students understand concepts and procedures. I felt I was contributing to their classroom experience, too,” he added.

For more information about the La Roche College Accelerated Criminal Justice Program, go to or call 412-536-1263.

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