Jason Goodman has realized his childhood dream of becoming a police officer, and he encourages others to do the same.
After serving in the Army, Jason returned home to Chicagoland and started attending community college while working full-time. He saw a notice on the school bulletin board seeking students to take the municipal law enforcement test, and jumped on the opportunity.
Once on board at the Morton Grove Police Department on Chicago's North Shore, Jason built on tuition reimbursement availability and his associate's degree to earn a bachelor's degree in sociology/social justice from Northeastern Illinois University. He currently acts as a guest speaker for Criminal Justice 101 college courses for the university, and plans to return to school for his master's degree in the future.
Jason, who is African-American, doesn't have much tolerance when it comes to forms of prejudice. "In today's society, no one should feel like they don't have a leg up, or that they're not capable for a certain career, just because of their ethnic background. Sure, there are prejudiced people, even a couple within my own department. But I don't let the bad apples out there get under my skin."
How did you decide to pursue a degree in Sociology/Social Justice?
I've always been interested in working with people, and I like to learn about different cultures, as well as equal opportunity for justice. Sociology seemed to fit into those interests.
How did you choose the school you attended?
Proximity, plus I had heard good things about Northeastern Illinois University.
What factors should students considering a career in law enforcement take into account when choosing a school?
Most departments want officers to have at least an associate's degree education. There are a few departments that require a bachelor's degree. Attending the police academy is also part of the job. It was a little over a three-month program for me.
How can prospective Sociology/Social Justice students assess their skill and aptitude?
If you like culture and race and ethnicity and equal rights, then this might be the major for you.
In what ways could the Sociology/Social Justice education system be changed to better serve society?
More interaction with the public would be better for students and society. It should be mandatory that sociology students work with agencies that may need help, like a juvenile detention center or a jail or a shelter. Field work would offer hands-on application with the real world. Students should go out and get their hands dirty.
Tell us about your career in law enforcement.
My career has been challenging. There's a lot to learn. Policy and procedure are really important. You've got to cross your ‘t's', dot your ‘i's'. You're in the public eye. On Chicago's North Shore, law enforcement is a little more high profile than working in the city. It's also more political.
Describe a typical week of work for you. What exactly do you do?
Routinely, we patrol, make sure the public safety isn't compromised. We look for suspicious activity or people, disturbances, and generally ensure the overall safety of the area of your responsibility. Traffic safety, of course, which is the part of law enforcement that the general pubic hates. But if you're catching people when they are being naughty, you can prevent a car accident.
You can also come across all types of offenders. It is kind of all a big circle. You do a lot by letting your presence be known in a neighborhood, it lets people know the police are around. A typical day is driving around, checking people out, just kind of being nosy. Making traffic stops.
We also get out of the patrol car and meet with the public, check in with the businesses to make sure we have the right information about them on file and update records, to make contact with store owners and managers and the public. Making yourself seen and dealing with the public is a big part of the job.
What unique challenges and rewards come from working in law enforcement?
I've had to work nights for most of my career, and getting your body to adjust is a tough challenge. You're always tired, a little more irritable.
Helping people is very rewarding: anything from catching a burglar, to putting someone at ease that's been in a bad car accident, to finding a missing person.
When did your interest in law enforcement start?
When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a cop. The D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program officers would come to my school, and they made a good impression on me as a kid.
I kind of just ran across my police job. It was posted on the bulletin board at the community college I was going to. It was something that I was interested in, so I went to take the test, and here I am.
Who or what are the biggest inspirations for your career?
I'm not really into guns, like some guys who get into the field. That's the wrong reason to get involved in law enforcement. The D.A.R.E. officer at my school was the main inspiration.
What ranks among the favorite achievements that you've completed in your career and why?
I caught two felons that were wanted by five towns for various reasons, including for running down a suburban cop with a stolen car. I literally caught them when they were sleeping. I noticed a car in a vacant parking lot that shouldn't have been there, and when I ran the plates, the dispatcher notified us that the car came back as stolen. At first, I didn't even realize there were two people sleeping in the car, until I walked toward the car to check it out. I called for back-up, and meantime, they woke up. They started the car, tried to ram my police car, then they tried to run down a fence and the car got hung up on it. They were bad people… it was cool that we caught them.
Tell us about your experience as a guest speaker for Criminal Justice 101 courses.
After I graduated, I was asked by one of my professors to speak to the classes. I offered the students more insight on what police work is all about, kind of what I'm doing now. We need more people who are socialized in law enforcement field…
What are some of your professional goals for the future?
I plan on getting my master's degree in sociology or public safety administration, and to do some volunteer work with underprivileged kids. I'd also like to teach entry level law or sociology courses at the college level.
What are the tools of the trade that you use the most? Favorite gadget?
I like my Leatherman SuperTool. It's very handy, with all sorts of gadgets, including a screwdriver, pliers, a knife and other tools. Once on an accident call, I used it to cut a person out of a seat belt. Another time, a car was broken down, and I used it to tighten up the battery cable so they could be on their way. It was a nice gift.
What are the best ways to land a job in law enforcement?
Stay in great physical condition, because there is a physical aspect to the job. Also maintain the integrity of your background; stay out of trouble and make sure you have a clean record. Having military experience can also be a good way to get a foot in the door, because the police force is a paramilitary operation. High school students can get involved at the community level; my nephew is a sophomore in high school, and he just joined the Junior Police.
How can the reality of a career in law enforcement differ from typical expectations?
Writing! A lot of times, being able to write a report is as important as how you have to be careful and watch your back on the street. The majority of the job is not tackling people… you're a documenter. The majority of your job is taking information and writing it up; you're almost like a reporter.
How has the Internet affected in law enforcement?
You can use it as a tool to assist in finding businesses or people, whatever. Financial crime like identity theft is the largest growing crime in the world. That is a negative of the technology. Sexual predators on the Internet are also an issue.
What are some of the contributions in law enforcement makes to society?
Police are the guardians and the peacekeepers. A lot of times people fail to see that aspect of it. Policeman sometimes are looked at by the public as the bad guys. A clerk at a convenience store told me a funny story: A 12-year old was in the store, buying milk for his mom, and there was a donation jar on the counter for a police fund. The boy bought his milk, got his change back, and looked at the jar and said something like "I hate the police." The clerk said, "Why? If you were getting beat up or your mom's car was getting stolen, who would you call?" The kid was quiet, and then he put all of his change in the jar.
What other advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in law enforcement?
Stay true to yourself, stay genuine and treat others how you want to be treated. If you do that, you can have a great career. Some officers become jaded and bitter from dealing with bad guys, the shift work and the loss of family time. Police officers have one of the highest rates of divorce in any profession, and there's a reason for that.
Editor's Note: If you would like to follow up with Jason personally about his experiences in law enforcement, click here. He has also offered to arrange ‘ride-along' experiences for students in the metro Chicago area with an interest in law enforcement.