CHADRON – A college degree has become increasingly valuable for a successful career in law enforcement, according to two graduates of the Criminal Justice program at Chadron State College.
“Law enforcement has developed a great deal as a profession and there is no doubt a college education is important for law enforcement personnel,” said Ryan Hieb, a special agent on the computer crimes team of the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation who earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from CSC.
Some police departments have begun requiring an associate’s or bachelor’s degree for new hires, said Tanner Rockwell, a 2009 CSC graduate who now works as a vehicular crimes investigator for the Casper, Wyoming, Police Department.
“A college degree is becoming more important to many agencies,” Rockwell said. “I have seen several officers obtain their degrees to further their knowledge or career. Often on the job training does not cover the case law or procedures covered in the classroom.”
Hieb, a Newcastle, Wyoming native, transferred to CSC from Casper College in 2008. He had initially planned to become a firefighter after completing his associate’s degree, but had looked at places where he might finish a bachelor’s degree. Chadron State was on top of the list because of cost, transfer of credits, and the possibility of an academic scholarship to cover his tuition costs. Meeting with Justice Studies Professor Dr. Tracy Nobiling on a campus tour was also instrumental in the decision.
“After touring the CSC campus and meeting with Dr. Nobiling, I knew I was making the right decision,” he said.
A job offer from the Casper Fire Department arrived at the same time Hieb learned he had been awarded the CSC scholarship.
“I took the weekend to think about my decision and ultimately decided to turn down my dream job to finish my bachelor’s degree,” he said. “I saw a major in Justice Studies as having more opportunities than the narrowed scope of a major in fire science.”
After graduation from CSC, Hieb took tests for jobs in both the fire and police departments, and was offered a position with the Casper Police Department. His six years with the department included work as patrol officer, detective and task force officer. The task force position included training in computer forensics and crimes and led to an offer in 2016 to join the state computer crime team.
Now Hieb works primarily on internet crimes against children and major narcotics cases. The work is challenging, but also fulfilling, he said.
“I have always had a deep passion for public service. My current job allows me to serve people all over the great state of Wyoming and sometimes beyond the borders,” he said. “The criminals involved with computer crimes often think they are safe within the comfort of their homes hiding behind their computer screens and it is rewarding to keep children safe by getting these predators off the streets.”
Rockwell, who hails from Valentine, developed an interest in forensic science from viewing popular television shows while in high school and chose Chadron State because of its growing forensics program. He completed his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2009 and signed on with the Casper Police Department in 2011. During his time as a Casper police officer he has been recognized with four letters of commendation, named the Officer of the Year, and earned a Unit Commendation Medal for his team’s investigation of a major narcotics case.
Police work requires a variety of skills, according to Rockwell.
“A community asks its officers to have an answer for every problem,” he said. “A candidate must be assertive and versed in the actions they need to take and the laws which either can or cannot be enforced. The ideal officer can convey understanding and compassion, while still commanding a scene.”
The variety of the job, and the challenges it poses, are aspects that Rockwell said he finds satisfying.
“I enjoy the problem solving aspect of law enforcement,” he said. “Every call an officer takes involves a task someone needs assistance in completing. The job remains interesting when each scenario requires a different response.”
The Justice Studies program at Chadron State was valuable preparation for the demands of a law enforcement career, both men agreed.
“The job entails detailed investigations, reports and understanding of the laws and procedures of criminal or civil action,” Rockwell said. “The Justice Studies curriculum is well rounded and covers all areas of the career.”
Hieb said both his undergraduate and graduate courses developed skills in writing, speaking and problem solving that are important in law enforcement work, and the leadership and management courses he took for his master’s degree in Organizational Management were particularly valuable for his current position on the computer crimes team.
Participating in the London Study Abroad program was also valuable, both personally and professionally, said Hieb.
“I learned a great deal from these trips comparing the different cultural aspects and criminal justice aspects,” he said.
Hieb’s advice for students interested in the criminal justice field is that hard work in college will pay off later.
“A college career helps with many aspects of a law enforcement career: writing, public speaking, problem solving, time management, attention to detail and work ethic,” he said.
Students should also take advantage of internship and job shadowing opportunities, Hieb added.
“Gaining hands-on experience will help them make career decisions once they graduate from college,” he said.