Last week, 14 Thomas College students and their professor, Steve Dyer, traveled to Worcester, Massachusetts to go on “ride alongs” with police officers.
“The trip was very eye-opening to all of us,” said sophomore Criminal Justice student Tyler LeClair. “Worcester is the second largest city in New England. Their police department currently employs just shy of 400 officers, complete with gang units and its own jail. That’s something Maine does not have. Portland is our state’s largest department with about 160 officers.”
LeClair, the president of the Criminal Justice Club at Thomas, said the trip was centered around doing “ride alongs” with the Worcester Police Department. He explained that a ride along is when a civilian or potential employee joins an officer in their cruiser for the day to observe and learn about the job. The students were split into four groups, with one student per officer.
“I’ve done multiple ride alongs within our state – Portland, Waterville, Kennebec Sheriff’s Office, and State Police. But nothing could really prepare you for the size and organized chaos of a large department such as Worcester,” he said.
LeClair said the students were required to wear a bullet proof vest and allowed to exit the vehicle for every call, including vehicle accidents, domestic violence and medical issues.
“This gave us the best first person experience that one could have,” he said. “Most departments up here require you to stay in the vehicle unless the officer specifically allows you to exit. Certainly, there were no secrets, and the integrity and personality of the officers we got to befriend were very inspiring.”
The idea for the trip was originally sparked by the Criminal Justice Club’s Treasurer, Rick Crayton ‘17, who had heard about other colleges doing these types of annual trips. Crayton and LeClair did most of the arranging for the trip, and started calling large departments all over New England.
“After being turned away from places like Boston and Providence, we found Worcester. And after being bounced around from person to person on the phone, they put their Deputy Chief on the line with me,” said LeClair. “Let me tell you, he was a miracle. He was the first person that had the personality and image we needed – someone who was open, community-oriented, and knowledgeable. A date was set, funds were raised, and a few weeks later we were leaving.”
LeClair said this trip fulfilled the goal of their Criminal Justice Club: to provide members with experience in the criminal justice system that they otherwise would not have.
LeClair said other activities the Club has participated in are demonstrations including Maine State Crisis Negotiation (complete with the armored vehicle), Women in Law Enforcement (presented by Autumn Clifford, a Thomas graduate), and the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.
One the most popular events, said LeClair, is the Alcohol Compliance Check with Somerset County Public Health they complete twice a year.
“We are brought to the Skowhegan Police Department and teamed up with an officer, then sent into town to attempt to buy alcohol from bars and businesses underage. If we are sold alcohol, the officer addresses the seller, usually resulting in a fine or requirement to take a course on alcohol awareness,” he said.
“Because of our efforts, we have dropped underage alcohol consumption in Somerset county by 50 percent over the last six years. We are very proud of that statistic.”
LeClair said that not all of the students who attended the ride along in Worcester were Criminal Justice majors.
“Our club is open to anybody, as the Criminal Justice system has an effect on everyone, so being educated is incredibly useful.”
This year, besides Criminal Justice majors, students who study early childhood education, marketing computer science, cyber security, management and sports management have participated in the Club.
LeClair said the Criminal Justice Program at Thomas College is very unique – and each professor has his or her own specialty and experiences.
“Professor Dyer is familiar with the private sector, corrections, community relations, and local law enforcement. Professor Marsolais has extensive knowledge with K9s, homeland security, criminology, and policing. Professor Rumsey is currently the deputy chief of Waterville, and is very knowledgeable in the administration and investigative fields. Professor Giorgetti has spent the majority of his life serving our country both in the military and in law enforcement, and even ran the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.”
LeClair said he would also recommend combining the Forensic Psychology program. He said studying both Forensic Psychology and Criminal Justice gives students even more opportunities and they can still graduate in four years.
He is glad Thomas College provides such a great program for such an important field, and he encourages prospective college students to consider Criminal Justice.
“Overall, the criminal justice field is expanding quickly, and it needs people of all types,” said LeClair. “Whether you are into computers, sociology, psychology, administration, business, accounting or science, the CJ field has a place for you. The program we have here at Thomas, along with the Criminal Justice Club, hopes to provide you with the opportunities you are searching for.”