Law Enforcement Careers: Some Risks, Many Rewards

Considering a law enforcement career requires analysis of a risk-and-reward equation.

The risks are readily apparent. The rewards, however, can be many.

“You get to make a difference in people’s lives,” said Watertown police officer Jeremy Lingle (’03). “You get to protect the people in your community. You get to keep kids safe. If I were to leave law enforcement now, I would miss it. I really enjoy it.”

Maranatha graduates from Alaska to Florida (quite literally) have found law enforcement to be a rewarding profession that also offers unique opportunities for ministry. The next few pages include interviews with them as well as information about educational requirements.

Criminal Justice degree not required

Maranatha’s admissions office reports that prospective students often inquire about an undergraduate degree in criminal justice. A criminal justice degree is not required by most branches of law enforcement; in fact, some government agencies prefer to train their employees to follow procedures unique to those agencies.

“The general trend is that law enforcement officers should be representative of the community they serve,” said John Stransky, Associate Dean of the School of Human and Protective Services at Madison Area Technical College. “Thus, they should have varying backgrounds. A typical mix of people in the police academy will include those with degrees in education, business, accounting, even law, as well as two- or four-year degrees in criminal justice.”

Most alumni interviewed for this article said fewer than half of their coworkers had studied criminal justice. Wisconsin requires police officers to have earned an associate’s degree or 60 college undergraduate credits. Other states have similar requirements.

“The broader representation we have, the better off we’re going to be,” Watertown Police Chief Timothy Roets said. “A degree in communications, English, or political science certainly wouldn’t eliminate you. Those employees add to our overall ability to serve the public. We don’t want to eliminate good candidates.”

Jeff Catlin (’03): Homicide Detective

Law enforcement was always part of Jeff Catlin’s life. His father was a police officer for 29 years, his uncle for 32 years. Catlin entered the police academy one month after completing his General Studies (now Humanities) degree at Maranatha. After working as a patrolman and an undercover officer in a gang unit, Catlin became a detective in the Hillsborough County (FL) homicide division last October.

His daily duties include interviewing suspects, requesting search warrants for homes or DNA, obtaining court orders for cell phone records, and plenty of what Catlin described as “runaround leg work.”

“It’s definitely exciting,” said Catlin, who also works with senior high boys in his local church’s youth department. “When you know you have been able to find the facts, put a charge on somebody, put the right person in jail, and keep the community safe, there’s definitely an adrenaline rush.”

Jeremy Lingle (’03): Police Officer

Jeremy Lingle, who grew up in Watertown, was glad to return—no matter what the reception.

“Let’s face it, the people I work with every day normally don’t want to see me in the first place,” Lingle said. “I can’t just start sharing my faith in those situations. But, once they start talking to me about their situation, there are opportunities.”

Lingle earned a Humanities/Letters undergraduate degree at Maranatha and taught for three years before being hired by the city police department. Now he has the chance to make a positive impact during negative situations.

“We deal with people at some of their lowest moments in life,” Lingle said. “They know they don’t have the answers. They’ve reached the bottom. That’s when I can point them to a program like NewFocus (Calvary Baptist Church’s faith-based addictions counseling). There are a lot of little routine things that fill up your day, but there are also moments when you feel like you’re really making a difference.”

Brian Hibbs (’06): Alaska State Trooper

Brian Hibbs (top photo) was featured in an episode of National Geographic Channel’s television show Alaska State Troopers, but you may not remember his face. Hibbs is employed as an investigator, so his features were obscured.

“That’s OK—I don’t do this to get on TV,” Hibbs said. “I am a big puzzle guy. I love to put puzzles together, which is exactly what investigators do. I can say that looking at each individual piece is more labor-intensive than people would think.”

Hibbs earned a Biblical Studies degree at Maranatha and was then deployed to Iraq by the Army. When Hibbs returned, he got his start in law enforcement with Operation Jump Start, designed to assist U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in Arizona and New Mexico. He became a patrolman with the Tucson (AZ) Police Department before moving to the Alaska State Troopers in October of 2010.

Hibbs is part of a unit that investigates major thefts and criminal enterprises. His most high-profile case came last October, when Hibbs helped hand out 200 felony indictments to members of a massive firearms theft ring.

Hibbs cautions those considering a career in law enforcement, noting, “This isn’t for everyone.”

“Understanding what God’s Word says about the sin nature helps me check my job at the door when I get home,” Hibbs said. “I struggled a lot at first with being disgusted at sin, with dealing with the darker side of life. I had a Christian coworker who also struggled with how God could allow these things to happen—so much so that he didn’t make it through officer training.”

Learning to cope with the negative side of his job has helped Hibbs find blessings in an unexpected location.

“Working in Alaska is different than working in the lower 48,” Hibbs said. “You can be out someplace all by yourself, 100 miles away from any help. The other thing that’s out of the norm here is wildlife problems. I’ve shot a lot of moose. People think of bears when they think of Alaska, but, in my mind, moose are the most dangerous. They are the size of a Clydesdale horse and, when they get mad, they get really mad.”

Chris Moore (’02), County Sheriff’s Deputy

Chris Moore hopes the entertainment industry hasn’t given others a false perception of his job’s realities.

“It’s not always Wyatt Earp walking through town, rustling up the bad guys,” said Moore, a deputy for the Dane County (WI) Sheriff’s Office.

The General Studies (now Humanities) major patrols county roads and answers calls in areas of Dane County that are not already covered by city police departments. He began working for the county eight years ago following an 18-month application process. He had been teaching and coaching at a Christian school.

“I spent the first six years working in the jail, which allowed me to develop really good relationships with coworkers that allowed me to share Christ with them,” Moore said.

Moore said he would recommend a law enforcement career to a young Christian, but “with a caveat.”

“There will be sacrifices, for you and your family,” Moore said. “There is a lot of overtime, a lot of stress, and a lot of temptation to bring that stress home with you. Your courage is constantly tested. You have to be mentally and spiritually prepared for those things, and you will need the Christian community to help you with the highs and lows.”

Lisa DeGraw (’79) and Christa Roberts (’02), FBI

How did a Music Education major and a Church Music major end up in the FBI?

“When we applied we kind of laughed about it,” Lisa DeGraw said. “It’s absolutely the last thing I ever thought I’d be doing.”

DeGraw and Christa (DeGraw) Roberts (left), her daughter, both work for the FBI office in Phoenix, AZ. DeGraw is an evidence control technician, Roberts a paralegal specialist in the asset forfeiture unit. DeGraw had been teaching in a Christian school, but needed additional resources to help put her children through college. Roberts had been searching unsuccessfully for a teaching job. Both simply applied through the website at the suggestion of a friend.

“The fact that you will stick to it and complete your degree seems to mean more than what area the degree is actually in,” DeGraw said.

Roberts helps facilitate the process that leads to the recovery of “ill-gotten gain,” including houses, cars, and even race horses. She investigates a criminal’s assets, then works with a legal team to help determine the best methods for recovery. DeGraw ensures that evidence is properly packaged and documented and puts her teaching experience to work training agents in evidence rules and evidence-related software.
“There are so many opportunities here to have an impact on a lot of different people and be able to share my faith,” Roberts said. “God has really blessed.”

“I call this job ‘God’s cherry on top,’ ” DeGraw said. “God has always been good about showing me right where he wants me to be.”