Kant for Cops By Kevin Smokler / Special to The Gazette Steve Vicchio poses a question to his class: What are the differences between the Ten Commandments and American criminal law? "Law is made by men?" offers Inspector Robert White of the Washington, D.C., police department. Vicchio nods and writes the statement on the board. "Men enforce laws," adds Maj. Mark Paterni of the Howard County, Md., police. On the board it goes. And so Vicchio continues with his Friday afternoon class on Values and Ethics in Society, in which readings of Thomas Hobbes, Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill are the standard fare. This is not "cop school" in the police academy sense of the word. The Police Executive Leadership Program, or PELP, is a two-year master's degree program in applied behavioral sciences. Believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, it is offered by the Johns Hopkins University School of Continuing Studies. Enrolled are 24 supervisory officers, from sergeants to chiefs of police, representing every major police department in the Baltimore-Washington area, plus the U.S. Department of Agriculture police. On alternate Fridays and Saturdays, they throw on street clothes, sling backpacks over their shoulders and attend all-day classes. PELP's genesis was a 1991 New York Times article indicating that, in 20 years, the number of police officers with college degrees had increased from 4 percent to 23 percent. Yet, there existed little advanced training for law enforcement officials beyond a standard criminal justice curriculum, said Stanley Gabor, dean of the School of Continuing Studies. So Gabor set out to design a new program, together with Sheldon Greenberg, then associate director of the Police Executive Research Forum, one of the largest law enforcement think tanks in the country. "Traditional cops and robbers that you see on television is only 3 percent of the job," Gabor said. "We wanted a program that taught law enforcement administration, strategic planning and values. This is not Handcuffs 101." The program aims to help officers keep pace with their changing societal role, Gabor said, and improve communication between jurisdictions. "Often police officers are the first on the scene in cases involving domestic violence, the homeless, prostitution," he said. "They need sensitivity and cultural skills to deal effectively with these situations. They don't learn those skills in academies." "These are people who want to be the change-makers in both their regions and nationally," said Greenberg, himself a former officer. "Before this program, it was unheard of to have first-line supervisory officers and chiefs of police, from different districts, talking to each other and exchanging ideas." As a result of the program, he said, the Washington, D.C., Police Department recently shared criminal investigation training methods with the Annapolis police. In Vicchio's class, students are applying their readings in Kant and Hobbes to issues of modern law enforcement. The class is preparing and hopes to publish an anthology that will combine traditional philosophical writings, moral dilemmas plucked from literature (such as those in Billy Budd and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) and case studies in law enforcement.
Go to Gazette Homepage