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Cops in Caps

Greg Schaber

Sgt. Steve Lang was looking for self-actualization. Capt. Michael Cureton wanted to make a point to his children. And Sgt. Michael Hartzler intends to fulfill a lifetime ambition. The three are part of a steady stream of local police officers who have enrolled at the University for the last five years as part of a program arranged by the center for adult and part-time students.

The idea for the program began in 2001 with Lang but didn’t take off in earnest until after the rioting in Cincinnati in the spring of that year. In the wake of those events, Mary Kay Meyer, the center’s acting director, and former director Sue Wideman were discussing ways in which Xavier could help increase stability in the city and hit upon the idea of offering an educational outlet for police officers. So they created a program that grants police officers 24 credit hours, the equivalent of a freshman year, for their police academy training. And, like other adult students, the officers can attend on weekends or in the evenings, whichever fits best with their schedules.

Since Lang’s arrival, officers from the Cincinnati Police Department, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department and several other suburban departments have come to campus as undergraduate students. Currently 23 officers are enrolled.

Perhaps most surprising, Meyer says, is that the University hasn’t marketed the program. The officers “keep recruiting their colleagues,” she says.

One of Lang’s referrals was Cureton, district commander for Cincinnati Police District 2. The idea of returning to school appealed to both Cureton’s professional and parental sides. “I have three kids in high school who always complained about school, and I went back in order to demonstrate that they needed to be better organized and to show them the importance of finishing school. I also wanted to demonstrate to my children that education is an all-the-time thing. You’re never too old to learn or finish.”

Those thoughts resonate with Hartzler, a 25-year veteran of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department. He’s had sporadic police training since 1976 and even took several classes through Northwestern University in 1998, but he was a bit apprehensive. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” he says. “But I was reluctant. I’ve been out of school so long, I wasn’t sure how I’d handle it.”

After his first class, he was hooked. “Since January, I’ve been taking classes all day on Saturdays. And I enrolled for two more this summer. By July, I will have 21 credits, which I consider quite an accomplishment because I’m working full time. I’m quite proud of that.”

Cureton, 49, who completed his bachelor’s degree in professional communication in December, earned an associate degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1976. He also attended the F.B.I. Academy at the University of Virginia and was able to transfer a number of credits. He cites the weekend scheduling and the flexibility of his professors for helping him achieve his goal. “I could not have done it otherwise,” he says. “I work 50-60 hours a week, attend lots of meetings and have a lot of reports to write.”

Meyer says most officers choose to attend on weekends. Although the course load adds yet another commitment to already busy schedules, Lang, Cureton and Hartzler say it’s worth the effort. Cureton found that his degree now makes him eligible to move further up the ranks; Hartzler, who often has to speak in public, says his communication skills have improved. And Lang, who graduated in December with a liberal arts degree and a 4.0 GPA is preparing to take the L.S.A.T. test in preparation for law school and life after police work.

“I just think education’s important,” Lang says. “Once you have it, nobody can take it away from you.”

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