Blue Line


September 5, 2012  By Bart Cummins

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Where theory and practice meet

by Bart Cummins

You never know what can come out of an informal suggestion over coffee – the police and justice studies program at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) is a shining example.


Then RCMP member Brian Cassell sat down with Andrew McKay, then TRU Continuing Studies Director, in 2004 and floated the idea of a police academy. He believed the BC Interior needed one and Kamloops would be a perfect location.

After four hard years of prep work – which included needs assessment research, getting the go-ahead from the university, finding money to buy equipment, writing the curriculum and hiring faculty – the first cohort of students began classes in the fall of 2007. Students balance applied policing courses and required academic studies in business, compositional English and presentation skills, philosophy, political science and sociology over a two year program.

June 2012 saw the largest graduating class to date. Where these 31 students end up working or how they choose to continue with their schooling is part of the program’s appeal. Graduates have a competitive advantage in applying for entry-level police and other justice-related positions or going into degree programs such as bachelor of arts or business administration.

Graduate Brad Walsh (2012) chose to apply to the RCMP’s six-month training program. Being accepted into Depot was a dream come true.

Walsh found the blend of hands-on and academic training put him in a better position to be a well-rounded officer. The sociology, psychology and even philosophy provided the understanding needed to better interact with people of different nationalities and walks of life – something that’s becoming increasingly important.

“The academic courses give you an understanding of what to expect with people and why they act they way they do,” said Walsh.

“You begin to see how all the courses are all connected and how society is connected. You come away with a better idea of why problems occur.” McKay said, “Academic courses are important because they increase the laddering opportunities for students who choose to finish a degree. Students gain a stronger foundation as informed citizens and these courses require our students to take classes with the larger university community, rather than always being isolated as a cohort.”

Jennifer Aviss is taking a different route to a policing career. After graduation she will take a criminology degree by distance through Royal Roads University.

“At first I wanted to be a sheriff but now I want to go into policing,” said Aviss, who also works as a loss prevention officer. It was that job and the police and justice studies program that helped change her mind.

“In my job, I like seeing what it is in their lives that brings them to where they are stealing. A lot of times they just need to be pointed in the right direction, know that there is help for them.”

It’s at the time of apprehension that Avis is able to offer guidance.

For those who aren’t as self-directed or are younger than the minimum age needed to apply to the RCMP, the TRU program has become an avenue to test the waters and gain experience at the same time.

“This has exceeded my dreams and I never thought it would be as successful as it is,” said Cassell, who became an instructor in the program and retired from the RCMP. “It has exploded more than I thought possible.”

Part of the explosion is because the instructors teaching the policing portion bring a wealth of real-life stories that help illustrate concepts and put the theory in context. The academic courses help develop the critical-thinking skills needed to police today, where officers require grace under pressure and the ability to successfully interact with people.


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2012 TRU Police and Justice Studies graduates pose with instructor and former Mountie Brian Cassell.

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