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Police shortage presents opportunity

Using a precise presentation appropriate for the director of the criminal justice program, Travis Pratt counts off a list of five points that define the future of his program and its graduates.

First, the criminal justice system throughout the Pacific Northwest is experiencing a serious shortage of qualified personnel.

• Second, even though the WSU criminal justice program has increased the number of students, the need is not being met.

Third, the WSU criminal justice program is one of the best in the nation and, without question, the best in the state.

Fourth, at current levels, the WSU criminal justice program cannot continue to increase the number of students without sacrificing program excellence.

Fifth, the current situation presents an opportunity for WSU to invest in a program that can help meet a vital social need and serve more students.

Pratt smiled after reciting his five-point litany. He returned to the beginning to explain.

Yes, the personnel shortage is real. The Seattle Police Department, for example, has not been able to fill all its open positions in the last three years.

This shortage extends throughout the system (in police, corrections, parole, probation and juvenile justice) and throughout the Pacific Northwest. Up to 10 agencies send recruiters to his classes every year (in addition to those represented at career fairs) and any student who can meet an agency’s hiring standards is eminently hirable, Pratt said.

To help meet that need, over the last decade, the number of WSU undergraduate criminal justice students has increased by about one-third to approximately 350 this semester, and the number of graduate students has doubled over the same period to 35. In addition, other regional universities have created or bolstered their programs.
 
“We are no longer the only game in town,” Pratt said. “However, we are still the best.”

WSU has the only doctoral-granting criminal justice program in the northwestern region and is consistently ranked in the top 10 programs nationwide.

“That excellence is our identity,” Pratt said. “Our concern is that we are at the absolute limit to the number of students we can prepare and still maintain that quality.”

Six full-time faculty teach the undergrads at the Pullman campus, a ratio that is twice the national standard. At the graduate level, the student-faculty ratio is eight times that of WSU’s peer institutions.

“If we are going to offer this career option to more students, and if we are going to help meet this very real need in our society, we are going to have to invest in an expanded criminal justice program,” Pratt summarized. “The response to that message has been positive, and I am optimistic that WSU will rise to meet this need.”

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