From Socrates to psychology, several Philadelphia police officers expanded their perspectives this summer by attending college courses paid for by a special scholarship program.
The officers live or work in the River Wards or the Northeast.
“My granddaughters thought it was funny that I had homework, too,” said Patrol Officer Jane Rash, a Holmesburg resident who works at the Firearms Training Unit at the Philadelphia Police Academy, at 8501 State Rd. Rash has been a police officer for 30 years, and went back to school a few years ago.
This summer, Rash and 21 other police officers got funding from the Kal and Lucille Rudman Scholarship fund to attend Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) courses. In Rash’s case, the scholarship money made it possible for her to take two courses instead of just one.
While studying philosophy, sociology, psychology and criminal justice, Philly police officers who received the scholarships were able to earn promotional points that help their careers while sharpening their minds on the finer points of abstract thought.
“It was like a light bulb coming on,” said Officer Magdalen Clarke, 47, a Philadelphia police officer for 25 years, about her sociology course at CCP. “It helps me in the police community and in the community itself. I live in Northeast Philly [Rhawnhurst] and it’s so diverse, it helps to understand other people’s customs.”
Clarke also works at the police academy.
Some of the classes were taught by CCP faculty at the police academy, where they were attended by police officers, fire fighters, sheriff’s department officers and correctional officers.
Many officers said that going back to school has improved their understanding of the social issues relevant to day-to-day police work.
“I can step back, if I’m involved with somebody and talk to somebody, I can step back and see their perspective – not just as a police, but in my personal life,” Officer Rash said. “At the supermarket or the movies, you’re always going to be with different types of people.”
Patrol Officer Ryan Barksdale, 37, has been a police officer for six years and currently works in Northeast Philadelphia in the 25th District. He lives in Castor Gardens. He wanted to go back to school partly because it was on his “bucket list,” and partly because his son was just leaving for college.
“My goal is to graduate with my son,” Barksdale said. “That would be a dream of mine, we’d both have reached our goals.”
Barksdale has studied juvenile justice, contemporary justice and terrorism, and said they helped him understand people on the streets and the things he sees every day. But he was most affected by reading Victor Frankl’s famed Holocaust memoir, “Man’s Search for Meaning.”
“It just opened up my eyes, with the people and what they were going through being in the concentration camps.” he said. “I never knew it could be that cold.”
Patrol Officer Craig Sweeney, 56, a Lexington Park resident who works in the 6th District in Center City, which includes parts of Northern Liberties, was at the scholarship celebration last week as well. While Sweeney did not receive a scholarship this year, he is taking CCP courses and participating in a tuition reimbursement program with the city.
“It opens up your viewpoints,” said Sweeney about his studies in sociology, psychology and philosophy. He said the education “absolutely” helped him do his job.
“We’re trying to assume different people’s viewpoints, and we’re in a multicultural society – whether it’s Center City, North Philly or South Philly – it opens up your eyes a little, just being in school and being acclimated to different people and different lifestyles.”
Sweeney recently passed the sergeant’s promotional exam, which he credits to college classes sharpening his mind.
“It’s good for me, for my family, and for the police department,” he said of his new education. “They’re going to benefit by getting a better officer, a more in-tune officer.”
Rash, Barksdale, Sweeney and Clarke all intend to keep going with their education now that they’ve gotten started, either by getting an associate’s degree, transferring to a bachelor’s program, or even going for a master’s. Some of them said that they had set an example that inspired their children and other family members to go back to school, too.
“I believe you should always strive for education,” Rash said. “The world doesn’t stop, there’s always something going on, and if you don’t keep up with it and if you don’t learn about it, you’re just left back in the tar pits.”
Reporter Sam Newhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.