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Balancing Civil Liberties and Protecting Our Communities

Criminal justice degree programs provide insights into vital topics for law enforcement professionals.

The debate about civil liberties is not new to the United States. Much of the nation’s history involves refining and articulating civil liberties, often to promote the safety and welfare of its citizens. As times and circumstances change, policymakers and courts must reexamine the balance between ensuring public safety and protecting civil liberties—particularly following events such as the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Just two months after the attacks, Congress established the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and charged it with U.S. airport security as part of an effort to protect U.S. transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce. Since then, the TSA has instituted a rolling progression of security measures that before 9/11 may have been viewed as excessively intrusive. Policies that the TSA has implemented to safeguard air travel include many that are now familiar to travelers: baggage screening, limits on liquids carried onto airplanes, and metal detectors and body-imaging millimeter wave scanners.

Balancing Civil Liberties and Protecting Our Communities

Eventually, safety measures included other security protocols such as the removal of religious head coverings, or additional security screening for persons wearing other religious, cultural, or ceremonial clothing that is loose fitting or bulky. These regulations have since been refined to include provisions for private screenings where, if necessary and justified, travelers can remove head coverings out of public view. The Constitution prohibits agents from performing stops, searches, detentions, or removals based solely on religion, race, national origin, gender, ethnicity, or political beliefs. In some cases, travelers who were asked to remove religious head coverings or undergo a pat down voiced concerns about profiling and infringements on their constitutionally protected civil liberties.

Dr. Jessie Lee, a law enforcement executive with more than 30 years of experience who serves as the academic program coordinator for Walden University’s criminal justice degree programs, says that post-9/11 security measures illustrate the shifting dynamic communities face between balancing public safety and protecting civil liberties.

“When an incident like 9/11 occurs, people are willing to sacrifice their personal feelings and private space. They do not have a problem going through an airport and maybe being personally searched or patted down. They want to get on the plane and fly in an environment that is safe,” he says.

Dr. Lee states that according to research, “As time passes, and the tragedy of 9/11 becomes a thing of the past, people begin to feel comfortable and secure again. With this feeling, people feel that their privacy is being invaded when they are subjected to security precautions such as scanning or being patted down to ensure that weapons are not carried onto the plane. With the continuance of security precautions, people now feel that their civil liberties are being violated. As we move away from the tragedy of 9/11, people start to feel that what we used to see as necessary safety measures are now an invasion of privacy, and people become less tolerant of safety precautions. The more distance we experience from an incident, the less tolerant we become of sacrificing civil liberties. We want them back, so to speak.”

Dr. Lee, who in his previous positions had the opportunity to sit on several advisory boards for four U.S. attorneys general, believes that training and education help law enforcement officers think critically and effectively about balancing public safety and civil liberties. He notes that many studies since 9/11 have found that education and training can help law enforcement officers effectively manage implicit bias and impartially enforce the law and execute public policies related to special populations, minorities, and community relations.

Training must be closely aligned with laws and policy, and focused on law enforcement priorities, he says.

“When we spend 40 hours of training on just shooting a firearm at the academy, and we spend maybe eight hours on dealing with juveniles, or maybe four hours on dealing with individuals with mental health issues, it gives the citizens an idea of our priorities. Is it on use of force or is it on other types of concerns?”

Law enforcement officers are also peace officers, he says, and training must cover both roles.

“We cannot just train for the use of force. We need to also train for de-escalation. If I say I’m a ‘law enforcement officer,’ that term, to many people and communities, means ‘I’m going to use force.’ But if I say, ‘I’m a ‘peace officer,’ communities get the message that a significant part of my job is to protect civil liberties and peace. This simple change of just the words sends the message, ‘I’m going to protect civil liberties and peace. I’m going to do what I need to do to follow and carry out the law ... but I’m here to maintain the peace and maintain a lawful society.’”

Adding the Power of Education

For men and women in or thinking of pursuing law enforcement positions, education is the other necessary component. “The larger agencies may be able to provide the necessary training, but the majority of police agencies throughout the country are small. Where do they establish the time to train individuals? This is where the academic arena comes into play,” Dr. Lee says.

Taking online courses from an accredited university or earning a criminal justice degree gives law enforcement officers in-depth knowledge and a broader perspective. Walden University’s BS in Criminal Justice degree program blends contemporary theory on the nature, extent, and cause of crimes with the study of national and international criminal justice practices.

“Research tells us that officers with college educations make better decisions about protecting civil rights and using force, and that in turn creates environments that better protect the public,” Dr. Lee says. He adds that better-educated officers also tend to have greater cultural awareness because they interact with a variety of diverse populations in classrooms and class discussions. The experiences people have in college classrooms, particularly online classrooms, encourage the thoughtful discourse that is essential to protecting both civil liberties and promoting public safety. “When well-educated officers make decisions, those decisions are based on training, education, values, and ethics,” he says.

Advance a Criminal Justice Career

Working professionals can earn a degree online while still engaged in their day-to-day criminal justice careers. Walden’s innovative criminal justice program blends coursework with computer-generated scenarios from crime scenes for an immersive experience that can help take careers to the next level. Walden’s bachelor’s degree program in criminal justice offers five concentrations: Corrections and Human Services, Crime and Criminal Investigation, Advanced Topics in Criminal Justice, Criminal Justice Management and Administration, and a Self-Designed option.

Students in Walden’s criminal justice degree programs receive the benefit of Dr. Lee’s extensive experience and distinguished service. Dr. Lee earned his PhD in Public Policy and Administration from Walden University, with specializations in Homeland Security Policy and Coordination and Nonprofit Management and Leadership. For nearly a decade, he served as the executive director of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), a nonprofit organization whose members include 3,500 police executives in 56 chapters throughout the United States, United Kingdom, and the Caribbean.

Dr. Lee currently serves as a senior consultant to the Executive Search and Assessment Center teams for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, where he oversees a variety of large management studies, including executive hiring, workforce development, organizational cultural studies, and technical assessments for law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. He is well-known for his work championing diversity and inclusion in public safety, law enforcement, and higher education.

“The more diverse your training and educational background is, the more options you possess,” Dr. Lee says.

Broaden your knowledge, add experience, and expand your options. Select the criminal justice degree program that fits your career goals and take the education, training, and fresh perspective you gain out into the community to become a criminal justice professional trusted with public safety and civil liberties.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a BS in Criminal Justice degree program with five concentrations. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,