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Posted on July 12, 2017

The inaugural group of Doctor of Criminal Justice students stand in a group for a portrait.

Federal law enforcement officials, state police officers and police chiefs are engaged in a weeklong residency program as the first class of Cal U’s Doctor of Criminal Justice program gets under way.

This professional doctorate program — the first regionally accredited D.C.J. degree in the United States — was approved in January. Classes began this week.

The highly competitive program has drawn more than 100 applications from qualified mid- and senior-level criminal justice practitioners across the country. In addition to law enforcement officers, the 26 students selected for the program’s first class include counselors; forensic specialists; corrections, probation and parole officers; professors; and others involved in the administration of justice.

“There’s a wide range of experiences in this group,” says program director Dr. John Cencich, of Cal U’s Department of Criminal Justice. “That’s only going to enhance the program. I anticipate some very good discussions, a good exchange of ideas.”

Online learning

Students enrolled in the two-year D.C.J. program will complete nearly all of their coursework through Cal U Global Online, the university’s online learning community. The five-day residency, held primarily at Cal U’s Southpointe Center, lets students meet their classmates and Cal U faculty, and hear from nationally recognized criminal justice experts.

“It’s convenient,” says John Thacik, one of two Pennsylvania State Police officers enrolled in the program. “I want to go as far as I can in the state police. That’s why I’m here.”

Top speakers

Speakers at the program’s opening sessions included Dr. Jay Albanese, former chief of the International Center at the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Justice Department; Dr. Cyril Wecht, former Allegheny County medical examiner; and Adam Bercovici, retired commander of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Students also heard from Cal U faculty, who have extensive backgrounds in law enforcement, international and homeland security, criminal investigative analysis, forensic science, cybercrime investigations, legal science and more.

“I like the design of the program,” says class member David Baer, a police chief from Marco Island, Fla. “It’s not a traditional Ph.D. program. It’s more practical, more focused on applied learning rather than academic research.”

That focus also appeals to Steven Shaffer, a retired police captain who teaches criminal justice at Butler County Community College.

“Things are constantly evolving” in the field of criminal justice, he says. “Already these speakers have given me information that I can take back to my classroom.”