Dr. John R. Cencich : CAL U

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Dr. John R. Cencich


  • J.S.D.: University of Notre Dame


Dr. John Cencich is a professor and director of the Pennsylvania Center for Investigative and Forensic Sciences, and the director of graduate programs in criminal justice at Cal U.

Cencich is a legal scientist and career law enforcement professional who specializes—experientially and from criminological perspectives—in the areas of international crime and security; organized crime; and criminal investigative analysis (behavioral crime). A former senior U.N. war crimes investigator headquartered at The Hague, Netherlands, he led a team of police investigators on one of the largest international criminal investigations undertaken in history. These cases involved crimes against humanity including murders; extermination; assassinations; sexual assaults; forced labor; and torture. He previously served for more than 20 years as a police officer and investigator, as well as a special agent with the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, working violent crimes, counterintelligence, protective service operations, and national security investigations.

An experienced undercover officer and investigator, Dr. Cencich also worked complex criminal investigations involving bootlegging, firearms, prostitution, pornography, sex crimes, narcotics, and interstate organized-gambling businesses. He previously served a special attachment to Scotland Yard's Central Vice Unit. During his law-enforcement career, he received over 50 commendations including the Police Meritorious Service Medal with Bronze "V" Device. In 2005, the Senate of Virginia unanimously passed a resolution commending him for his law enforcement service to the Commonwealth, the nation and the United Nations. And the U.S. government recognized him for singularly leading a worldwide investigation of "marked national and international service." He is an alumnus of executive education programs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Teaching, Service and Research Areas

  • War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity, and Genocide
  • International and Human Security, Maritime Crime, and Political Assassinations
  • Criminal Investigative Analysis and Equivocal Death Analysis
  • Traditional, Nontraditional, and Transnational Organized Crime
  • Forensic Law and Cold Case Crime Investigation

Appointments and Professional Memberships

  • Chair of the International Section of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences
  • Vice Chair of the Law & Public Policy Section of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences
  • American Society of Criminology
  • Criminologists Without Borders
  • International Association of Chiefs of Police
  • Association of Certified Fraud Examiners
  • American Investigative Society of Cold Cases
  • ASIS International 

Awards and Prizes in Academia

  • Outstanding Service Award: Department of Modern Languages (2011)
  • The W.S. Jackman Award of Distinction: Cal U Alumni Association (2010)
  • Justice, Law & Society Outstanding Service Award (2009)
  • The Presidential Faculty Award for Service (2008)
  • The President's Medal for Patriotic Service (2007)
  • Faculty Merit Award for Excellence in Teaching (2005)


Dr. Cencich also provides active consultancies on international crime and security, transnational organized crime, human trafficking, forensic law, and advanced criminal investigations to many organizations including:

  • The United Nations and other IGOs
  • The U.S. Department of Justice
  • Local, state, federal, and international criminal justice agencies
  • Private counsel, corporations and NGOs

Selected Research, Scholarship and Publications

  • Associate Editor (2014). Criminal Procedure Section. J. Albanese (ed.), Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell.
  • Cencich, J. (2013). The Devil's Garden: A War Crimes Investigator's Story. Washington, DC: Potomac Books.
  • Co-Chair/Presenter: Panel on Public Order in a Disordered World: Facing War and Its Aftermath. Paper: "War Zones and International Security: An Experiential Perspective." Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences - Dallas, Texas, March 2013.
  • Co-Chair/Co-Presenter: Panel on Behaviors and Typologies of Sexual Offenders. Paper: "Gateway to Sex Offenses." Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences -- Dallas, Texas, March 2013.
  • Paper: "Issues in International Security While Investigating War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity." Ninth Biennial International Conference of Criminal Justice and Security in Central and Eastern Europe, Ljubljana, Slovenia, hosted by the Faculty of Criminal Justice and Security, University of Maribor (2012).
  • Chair: Interrogations Panel. Paper: "War Criminals: The Art and Science of the Interrogation." International Conference: Global Perspectives on Justice, Security, and Human Rights. John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York (2012).
  • Panel: Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity; Theory, Law, and Methodology. Paper: Interrogating International War Criminals." Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. New York (2012).
  • Cencich, J., Adjudicating International Crimes. M. Beare, J. G. Golson (eds.), Encyclopedia of Transnational Crime and Justice. Sage Publications, April (2012).
  • Cencich, J., Transnational Policing. M. Beare, J. G. Golson (eds.), Encyclopedia of Transnational Crime and Justice. Sage Publications, April (2012).
  • Cencich, J., "Conducting International Criminal Investigations of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity: A War Crimes Investigator's Perspective." 19 International Criminal Justice Review 175-191, June (2009).
  • Panel: International and Regional Responses to International and Transnational Crimes. Paper: The U.N. Security Council's Response to Genocide, Crimes Against, Humanity, and War Crimes by way of the ICTY. Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences: Cincinnati (2008).

Service and Service Learning

  • International Security Coordinator for faculty, staff, and students traveling abroad or into high-risk locations
  • Served as the first Mock Trial Coach with students capturing local and regional awards, and participating in national competitions
  • Initiated and served as the first advisor for the Forensic Science Club
  • Initiated and served as first advisor for the Criminal Justice Honorary Society
  • Through career-long professional contacts, facilitated students and other faculty members with first-hand learning experiences from some of the original criminal profilers from the FBI Academy at Quantico, Va.
  • Arranged official visits to international venues such as The Hague, Scotland Yard, Belgium, Paris, and Spain where students were directly exposed to the work of some of the top law enforcement, security, intelligence, and juridical professionals in the world
  • Secured world-class internships for students with organizations such as the FBI Behavioral Science Unit and the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague

Previous Positions at Cal U

  • Professor and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Research (2008 -- 2012)
  • Professor and Chair, Department of Justice, Law & Society (2005 -- 2008)

Academic Department(s)

  • Department of Criminal Justice

Academic Program(s)

  • B.S. Criminal Justice
  • M.A. Social Science in Applied Criminology
  • Doctor of Criminal Justice

Contact Information



Watkins Hall B1

In The News

Immediately following the apprehension of "Suspect No. 2" in the Boston Marathon bombing, a strong divergence of views emerged regarding the proper legal venue for the alleged terrorist. Dr. John R. Cencich discusses President Barack Obama's decision not to declare the suspect as an "enemy combatant" in his commentary published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Dr. Cencich served with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia from 1998-2002 and led the investigation of Slobodan Milosevic for crimes alleged to have been committed in Croatia. Read Spotlight on Alumni in Notre Dame Lawyer magazine

In July 2011, Goran Hadzic was taken into custody, the last remaining fugitive from international justice involved in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. 

Dr. Cencich’s team investigated Hadzic, and his arrest “is a victory for the United Nations and all humanity,” Dr. Cencich writes in a commentary published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Here are other articles that draw on his expertise:

The Circumstances of Crime (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Atrocities in Yugoslavia (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Policeman's Murder Hit Nerve (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Saddam Probe Could Take Years (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Cal U Professor Lends Expertise (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

War Crimes: The Investigation (Washington Observer-Reporter)

For Victims Families, Suspect's Arrest Date Doesn't Matter (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

Conducting War Crimes Investigations (NPR: Talk of the Nation)

In addition, Dr. Cencich has been named as on of the top 15 CSI professors in the country by ForensicsColleges.com.

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