A 2019 college guide has ranked La Sierra University’s criminal justice program 12th in the United States, a designation that comes as the program has grown into the university’s largest major.
The 2019 Best Colleges for Criminal Justice in America ranking is produced by Niche.com, a site that prepares annual rankings and analysis on thousands of K-12 schools, colleges, cities, and employers. On the best criminal justice programs list, La Sierra landed ahead of such schools as Florida State University, Rutgers University, Ohio State University, and others.
Niche.com states that its college rankings are based on student reviews, data from the U.S. Department of Education, and other sources.
The Program at La Sierra
The La Sierra University criminal justice program, which was launched in the fall of 2010, operates under the umbrella of the College of Arts and Sciences at two campuses, one in Corona and the other in Ontario, California. Since its inception, the program has expanded to reach enrollment in fall 2018 of 255 students. It offers Bachelor of Science degrees in criminal justice for those aiming for careers in public safety, criminal law, private security, court administration, forensics, or corrections.
Students learn from faculty members who possess extensive professional experience in various fields of criminal justice after working for such agencies as the Orange County Probation Department, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department forensics unit, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, and other entities. The program also provides many hands-on learning environments such as a police driving simulator, crime lab, tactical training room, and mock trial courtroom. Students learn specific skills including arrest and control techniques, weaponless defense, fingerprinting, ballistics, crime scene processing, forensics, blood-spatter analysis, and report writing. The department is currently planning a special topics course covering narcotics in the 21st century.
“The strength of the program is the faculty, because they have worked for years in a variety of criminal justice and related fields,” said Todd Bell, a criminal justice program faculty member. A former Southern California law enforcement officer, Bell helped start the La Sierra program. “We have men and women from law enforcement, people from corrections, probation, forensic science, we have people from Homeland Security, and people from the legal field.”
Biblical Principles Included
The program is based at a Seventh-day Adventist Christian university that places a strong emphasis on the spiritual life and development of its students. Bell attributes the program’s growth to God’s blessing.
“It grew by the grace of God,” Bell said. “We believe that God blessed our program, that the faith and the grace of God were on our program, and we were able to mix academics with a practical application, which is attractive to young people.
“Also, because we are a Christian university, students are learning biblical principles that help them deal with tough decision-making and are acquiring biblical wisdom that helps them understand the spiritual underpinnings of justice.”
Strong Job Prospects
Graduates of the program are heading into career paths with strong job prospects, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The job market for police officers and detectives is expected to grow 7 percent through 2026, while the market for forensic scientists during the same period is expected to increase by 17 percent.
Riverside native Edson Lucero Gonzalez graduated from the criminal justice program in 2017 and was accepted into the Los Angeles Police Academy, the fulfillment of a childhood dream. “I like helping people, especially younger individuals,” Gonzalez said. Police officers are in a position to directly influence and support young people and teach them constructive ways of dealing with life and its challenges, he said. He noted that news and social media posts often depict police in a negative light.
Gonzalez learned about La Sierra’s criminal justice degree when he attended a workshop at Norte Vista High School led by Bell.
Gonzalez’s criminal justice degree directly affects his work as an officer, he said. English classes provided writing skills needed to write police reports, and forensic classes and mock trials prepared him for giving testimony in court. “The critical thinking classes I had helped me out on patrol,” he said.
Senior criminal justice student Keoni Oliver was born in Pasadena, California and lived in Wasilla, Alabama, for more than 14 years, where his parents live and where his father, John Oliver, a La Sierra alumnus, is a physician. While Keoni comes from a long line of physicians going back to his great-grandparents, he is pursuing a career in criminal justice and national security. This winter quarter he is engaged in a directed study class researching hate groups, politics, and media, and the forces that drive young people to join hate groups.
Oliver is considering pursuing a master’s degree in homeland security at the Raphael Recanati International School in Israel. He has read many books on Middle East conflict, reads about forensics, and researches law enforcement-related news, he said. Last year he was able to visit the Middle East by joining an archaeological expedition in Jordan organized by La Sierra University’s Center for Near Eastern Archaeology.
Oliver has immersed himself in the criminal justice program by assisting professors with their classes, setting up mock crime scenes, helping with weapons defense classes, and handling IT and tech support. Knowledge and skills he has acquired along the way include conflict resolution and the ability to interview people, as well as the capability for interpersonal communication that can be used to mitigate dangerous situations, he explained. “I love it,” he said.