We continue our interview with criminal justice/law enforcement educator, writer and consultant, retired LAPD Police Lieutenant, Raymond E. Foster.
If you missed Part 1, check it out here.
CJSI: What were some of the roles you played as Sergeant?
RF: After six months they put me in charge of the Gang Unit. Then I got transferred to Communications Division for six months…What happens is (when the police department is so big they can do this) when you get promoted they move you to another division so you’re not supervising people that you worked with directly. Then after you’ve done that job for a year, they move you again against your will, because you spent a year making mistakes as a young supervisor or a young manager and they want to give you a fresh start. It’s called the “Wheel.” I came up the Wheel to Communications Division. I had been there two days and I walked across the street to what they call “Position Control.” This one guy is in charge of where everybody works. I mean literally he had a Dymo label maker—he would make your name and put it on a magnet. He had 10,000 magnets on this huge wall and that’s how they transferred people—they moved your magnet around.
So I walked in there and asked, “What’s the fastest way out of Communications?” He said I should put a transfer in for 77th Division, which is the one place that nobody wants to work. So I put a transfer in for there and that is the division that includes the intersection of Florence and Normandie, which you might be familiar with because that’s where the riots started of 1992. So I wheel into 77th in 1989 or 1990 and I’m a field sergeant.
CJSI: And how did you go from being a sergeant to lieutenant?
RF: I had told my dad I’ll take the sergeant job and if I have two bad days in a row I’m going back to being a police officer. I really liked being sergeant so I thought I’ll be a lieutenant. Well that’s really competitive, so I thought I have a police personnel file—I have my share of shootings and complaints and high speed pursuits and everything else—and I did not have a college education. So I thought if I’m going to do this, I have to go back to school. So the day my oldest son turned 18 (I was 36), I started college when he did.
I earned my Bachelor’s degree, and right after I enrolled in a Master’s program. At the same time, the lieutenant test was coming up. I really wanted to study hard for this. If you took the material for the lieutenant test, it stacked up five-and-a-half feet tall. It was the homicide manual, the juvenile manual, the regular police manual, the penal code, the health and safety code…It was tons and tons of material. I reduced it to 2,000 flashcards. I went through the flashcards and when I put three Xs on the back (meaning I answered them right three times) I threw them away. I ended up that day having 32 flashcards left out of 2,000. They give you four hours for the test and I took it in 45 minutes and scored a 97%!
So as Lieutenant, I worked patrol, then I worked traffic and then I went to fugitives where I was the INTERPOL liaison.
CJSI: So how did you go from the LAPD to the life of an academic?
RF: I had a Master’s degree, 23 years on the job at the time, and I’m thinking about becoming a captain or what I’m going to do next. My boss comes in and he says, “Hey do you want to write this grant application for a quarter million dollars from the state?” It was due in three days so I put this team together in my squad and we worked this grant up. Like any good grant writer I included conference money in it.
Well we got awarded the grant and at that time we had been working on a biometric component to warrant service using facial recognition technology. Now I have $2,000 travel money for conferences. I look around and I find this conference in Hawaii…So I call the University of Hawaii and I tell them about our project and they make me a presenter at the conference.
I walk in and present to 600 people as a keynote speaker on biometrics. I get in an argument with a scientist during the Q&A of the presentation. I win the argument and walk out of the room. This guy walks up to me and says, “Hey how would you like to write a book?” It turns out he was a field representative from Prentice Hall. I said, “Yeah sure…why not?”
So I wrote this book and I had 24 years on the job. My wife had 20 years on the job (she was a detective) and was eligible for retirement. And my first book came out and I had offers to teach at two universities. I thought, “You know…I have my pension, it’s not the biggest pension I could get, but I have all these opportunities, and so I’m going to start to teach and write.”
And that leads into the consulting and at some point I develop my first website. Now I have about 80 websites that I own, that I’ve developed…And I do consulting and I write and I teach.
CJSI: To you, why is a college/university degree valuable?
RF: There are two things about a college or university degree. The first is the information they’re going to give you in completing it. That in itself is a lot. But the other thing is, as an employer, when somebody comes to me and they’ve gotten a college degree, it tells me that they were able to manage a long term plan because it’s four years (and if you’re looking at also a Master’s degree, seven years). It’s a long term plan that you managed and that you successfully completed, that you were able to work both in groups and independently. If you were an adult [who went back to school] you were certainly able to manage competing resources and prioritize your work. So a college degree, not only do I know you learned information and you met new and interesting people and all that good horse manure they tell you, but from a practical standpoint, especially an adult who powers through a college education [i.e. while holding down a day job] it tells you a lot about your character as an employee.
CJSI: What advice would you give those considering a career in criminal justice?
RF: If you’re not sure if you are a right fit, there are ways to explore the career. Let’s say you want to be a police officer. You can contact your local police station, go down there, talk to cops and some might let you go on a ride along to see what the job is like. If you want to be an attorney, call the public defender or district attorney’s office and talk to an attorney. They’ll talk to you—find out about that job. If you want to be a court clerk or a forensic investigator or whatever the career may be, if you’re not certain, the thing to do is go and talk to somebody about it and see if that’s the kind of work you really want to do, day in and day out.
I’m probably the first generation experiencing this, and I think every generation after me for the foreseeable future should take heed, that you need to continuously learn new skills, for couple of reasons. The first is to make yourself current. Our fathers could work in the same factory for 30 years and they didn’t need to know anymore than the job they had to do when they were in there. But now things are changing so rapidly that you need to always be relevant in your career.
The second thing is if anything in my life shows that you need to be prepared for any opportunities that are thrust at you. If you don’t have an education, or if you’re not pursuing some form of education, you won’t recognize opportunities. So I think to be relevant and to be prepared for when opportunity knocks, you can open the door. I think those are the reasons to get a degree.
For the undergraduate degree, criminal justice opens a whole big field to you. (If you want to go in and focus at the Master’s level then that’s what you do.) But a criminal justice degree will open the door to opportunities you don’t know exist.
For more information on Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster, visit: http://police-lieutenant.com/