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Published by the Public Affairs Office at San Francisco State University


Contact: Ted DeAdwyler
phone: (415) 338-1665

Enrollment in S.F. State's Criminal Justice Program triples in less than two years with new degree

New class on terrorism and covert political warfare offered in the spring

SAN FRANCISCO, December 19, 2001 ---Maybe it has to do with the popularity of television shows such as "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "Law & Order," or "Law & Order: Special Cases," but San Francisco State University's criminal justice program has become one of the fastest growing majors on campus.

Since the program began offering bachelor's degrees in criminal justice about 18 months ago, the number of students at S.F. State majoring in criminal justice has nearly tripled, jumping from 68 in 1999 to 160 in 2000 to more than 230 in 2001.

"We are going like gang-busters around here," said Daniel Vencill, chair of the criminal justice department at S.F. State. "Students are interested in our program not because they want to walk a beat as police officers or become U.S. Marshals. We have very committed students who want to go on to law school or foreign service or pursue graduate studies in public policy and criminal justice research. These students are very motivated by the concept of justice."

Students in the program range from police officers who want to move up the ranks to younger students who want to pair a major in criminal justice with one in chemistry and go into forensics or double major in international relations to join the CIA. Some plan to pair computer science and criminal justice to help in the prevention of cybercrime and promote internet high tech security, for instance, in Silicon Valley.

Pia Bordon, a 21-year-old senior criminal justice major from San Francisco, said that some students in criminal justice may have been influenced by popular crime shows on television or the pro-police mood after Sept. 11, but others see it as a career with the accent on community service. "Now many students see a career in criminal justice as a way to help their communities become better places to live. And maybe we can also do something about injustices that seem too frequent in our criminal justice system today," said Pia, who helped organized and serves as president of the Criminal Justice Student Association on campus.

S.F. State offers a broad range of courses in criminal justice, including classes on criminal law, criminal profiling, police and public policy, the literature of criminal justice, jails and prison, juvenile justice, organized crime and ethics in criminal justice. Some of the classes have been taught at the San Francisco Police Academy.

Vencill teaches a popular course on the economics of crime, race profiling and the prison-industrial complex, which examines topics such as the cost of the war on drugs. And David Fischer, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, this spring will teach a new course crossed-listed with international relations on terrorism and covert political warfare. "Our students are getting a very broad look at the world of law enforcement and how it can serve as a launching pad to varied career paths," said Vencill.

What sets S.F. State's program apart from similar efforts is its emphasis on issues of social and class justice, said Ken Walsh, a former New York City police officer turned private investigator who teaches in the program. "This is not a cop shop. We don't have enough people in the criminal justice profession who have a liberal arts education. We need more professionals who can see how other factors in society such as income and ethnic background affect individuals in our criminal justice system," Walsh said.

In addition to providing a firm foundation in law enforcement, the program also looks at issues of advocacy and reform within the criminal justice system. "About half of our students will go on to law school or into law enforcement, but many others will go into advocacy areas that focus on reform of the system," said Walsh.

For example, he said, many students have expressed interest in doing work typified by the Innocence Project, the New York-based organization that uses DNA technology to challenge court convictions. Walsh is working with representatives of attorney Barry Scheck, who worked on the O.J. Simpson case, to get a chapter of the pro bono organization established at S.F. State next spring.

Students say they enjoy those challenges the department's real-world internships offer. Jon Stingley, 26-year-old junior from Concord, interns several hours a week in the fugitive section of the U.S. Marshal's Office in San Francisco. "This is a great experience to see law enforcement from the front row. The more I work in that office, the more I want to go into law enforcement," said Stingley, who plans a career with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The Criminal Justice Students Association recently worked with the San Francisco police and fire departments to collect Christmas toys for disadvantaged children in the city. The drive on campus was a notable success, according to Vencill.

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Last modified April 24, 2007, by Office of Public Affairs