By Laura Ingalls
Arizona Daily Wildcat
When Sgt. Robert Sommerfeld is done hitting the UA police beat, he hits the books.
The 31-year-old policeman balances his erratic work schedule, which rotates periodically between days and nights, while attending classes to pursue a bachelor's degree in business management at the University of Phoenix.
"It's a juggling act," said Sommerfeld, who also has to schedule time with his wife and National Guard duty into his dwindling free time. "If I lost my time-managing book, I'd cease to exist."
The motivations to add the rigors of academic life on top of a police career, as Sommerfeld said, are both professional and personal. Policemen must have a bachelor's degree to become lieutenants and other high-ranking officers, he said. The education outlet also keeps policemen alert on the job, an area Sommerfeld believes has been lacking since he was discharged from the U.S. Air Force in 1985.
"I felt like my mental capabilities were getting retarded," he said. "Your brain is like a muscle group ─ you have to exercise the muscle in your brain."
Like most students, sometimes nighttime is the only time Sommerfeld can study, causing fellow officers to notice the bags under his eyes the next morning, he says.
But Sommerfeld has plenty of co-workers on the force that share his school day woes. About 27 University of Arizona Police Department employees out of 70 are in school, either at the university or area institutions.
This semester is the first in which officers who are students have gotten a break on their rotation schedule, after petitioning for semester-long shifts. Previously, police had three-month shifts which interfered with class schedules.
As student employees, police get a deal on UA classes, paying about half the tuition per class, said Sgt. Brian Seastone, who has been taking Northern Arizona University satellite courses at the UA for more than two years. The reduced tuition is used as a draw for officers who want to complete their educations.
But police receive no other special treatment from the university, even when it comes to phone registration and scheduling.
Officer Wes Kent said he bicycles to school to avoid the parking gridlock and experiences frustration with phone registration like any other student.
"I get to sit on the doggone phone and say 'What! It's closed or it's full?' That's exasperating," said Kent, who is taking a Russian class to work with Russian businessmen in the future.
Seastone said the university schedule is not always conducive to the department's working schedule, explaining the benefits of the satellite program he is taking. Still, Seastone said spending about five hours each week in class, studying and then starting work at 6:45 a.m. at the station makes for some very long days.
"In the undergraduate program it seemed I had more time. In this particular case, the basics of life ─housechores, quality dog time ─ go by the wayside," he said. Back in the student mode after a five-year break, Seastone said the term papers are the most time consuming part of his program, he said, with reading ranked as the most boring.
In December, Seastone will get his master's degree in educational leadership, a distinction he hopes will boost his career in law enforcement or open up new opportunities.
Seastone said he is aware school and work have taken over his life when his parents call to complain.
"They drop hints like, 'Last time we saw you, you were 24,'" the 37-year-old officer said, laughing.
Education makes police better informed about and able to react to the ever-changing legal environment, said Harry Hueston, deputy police chief. It also stimulates officers to use alternative approaches in their jobs, he said.
Hueston should know about higher education. He is working on his doctorate degree at UA in higher education administration, having completed two master's degrees at other universities.
"People are always surprised when they find out I'm working on my doctorate," Hueston said. "I believe that in an academic environment you need academic credentials that validate your qualifications in the position you hold."
Police today need to be as creative as possible because crimes are becoming more violent and complex, Hueston said.
"Cops have to be able to think on their feet today and think of ways to meet the budget constraints we're under. That takes some intellect," he said.
Higher education helps Hueston cope with the "crisis" of having to meet the increasing demands on the department to provide more services with a stagnant annual budget of about $2 million. Ever-growing security needs for new buildings, sporting events and concerts drain officers and increase wear and tear on police property.
"I encourage policemen to go to school so they are exposed to the business of the university. It also
helps them understand we're here to protect the student community for the process of education," he said.
However, Hueston doesn't consider himself a model student.
"I'm a realistic student. I deal with reality every second," he said, explaining his tendency to tell his instructors when their educational theories won't work in the real world. "It's a two-way street. If you say something I'll come right back at you."
And when his police officers have problems as students in the university system, Hueston said he'll go to bat for them. It's that important to him to have them in school, he said.
Creighton Brandt, one of the 15 community service officers that patrols campus for UAPD, goes to school full time.
Brandt, a criminal justice administration senior, works from 15-20 hours each week for UAPD, about 30 hours for the U.S. Marshal's Office and has a full class load.
"I don't know if I could have done it all my freshman year," said Brandt, touting the value of time management.
His UAPD job gives him a chance to have a student job in his career field and some pocket money to meet student expenses. Plus, the department is flexible about work hours if he has a rough test schedule, Brandt said.
Chad Mayard left his deputy sheriff job in California to become a UAPD dispatcher and full-time student more than two years ago. Though he works nights at the department and shoes horses part time, he stressed that his family comes first.
This semester is especially challenging for the animal science major, whose wife is scheduled to deliver their third daughter during finals week. Because of his family, Mayard said he'll put his plans for law school on hold until his children are older. Still, Mayard said he is able to keep up on his school load.
"I must be doing it right since I got a 4.0 this point in the semester," he said.
"The greatest teacher in life is life," said Hueston, but a marriage of practical experience and educational theory is priceless.
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