Criminal Justice Program Earns High Marks
Alumni and faculty demonstrate why Brockport was recently named the top program in the state for its career preparation.
Professor and Chair of Criminal Justice Ann Bunch recently received some exciting test results — from an exam she didn’t know was being administered. The Department of Criminal Justice was named the top program of its kind in New York State by Zippia.com.
“It was a total surprise,” said Bunch. “We were under the microscope without knowing it — we did well without worrying about performing.”
Analyzing data from the US Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics, Zippia praised Brockport’s program for its career results, including the mean earnings of alumni after six years and 10 years, and the percentage of alumni working in the field 10 years out. College-wide data such as admissions rate and graduation rate were also factors.
“The alumni I have talked to all seem really engaged with their work and with their community,” said Bunch. “Knowing the community, helping the community, serving the community — that’s what we want them to do, and we see it in action time and again.”
Detective Trooper Bryan Cairnduff ’11 puts his Brockport training to use in his work with the Michigan State Police. He completed a major in criminal justice (CRJ) and minors in forensic science and psychology. As an Honors College student, he also completed a senior thesis project, A Study of Investigating Child Abuse, available on Digital Commons.
The project — which involved interviews with law enforcement and social workers and research at a Child Advocacy Center — gave him an in-depth introduction to a topic he now deals with regularly in his career.
“I found a passion to help children who do not have a voice,” said Cairnduff. “After becoming a state trooper, I volunteered at the Child Advocacy Center in the area where I work. If I hadn’t researched this difficult topic, I’m unsure if I would have had such a positive experience with that work now. I am thankful every day.”
Cairnduff’s work has spanned multiple specialties, including undercover narcotics investigations and security work preventing the illegal transportation of narcotics, weapons, and cash.
Though it’s far from the only career path CRJ majors pursue, law enforcement is a popular one. For instance, 12 of the 21 employees in the College’s Department of University Police are Brockport alumni, including officers, lieutenants, dispatchers, Emergency Manager Fred Rion ’05, and Chief of Police Dan Vasile ’07/’18.
“The criminal justice program was a great foundation for the police academy and my career as a police officer,” Vasile said. “I had a better understanding of many of the subjects we covered in the academy because of course work I had completed. I was also a stronger writer when I entered the job. All of these traits helped me to be noticed and advance my position into a leadership role.”
Vasile has worked with Bunch to host an intern in University Police each semester and to employ CRJ students on student patrol.
At 36 credit hours, the CRJ major is designed to pair well with additional majors and minors. Students commonly combine it with studies in psychology, sociology, anthropology, African and African American studies, history, and foreign languages, among others. Extensive elective choices allow students to tailor the major to their specific area of interest.
This flexibility worked particularly well for Sarah Brown ’18, also an Honors College graduate and a self-described “indecisive” student. She wasn’t sure a criminal justice major was the right fit for her, since she didn’t want to be a police officer. She soon discovered what an array of career paths the program feeds into, including social work, probations and parole, restorative and rehabilitative justice, security, and law.
Brown decided to remain in the major and add two more, political science and international studies, as well as minors in anthropology and forensic science.
The combination of forensics and anthropology — Bunch’s own specialty — proved to be Brown’s sweet spot.
“My very first class with Ann helped me figure out this was what I wanted, and it really gave me a passion for studying the effects of traumas and crimes on the body,” said Brown. “[Visiting Assistant Professor] Tiffany Rawlings in the Department of Anthropology also sparked my interest in ancient diseases and such. Both of them helped me understand that I was drawn more to the forensic side, the puzzle of pathologies, as well as trying to help people.”
Brown calls upon that training frequently in her current work at the Monroe County medical examiner’s office, where she was hired just weeks after graduating this past May. She spends her days evaluating crime scenes and determining what degree of investigation is needed.
“I’m glad I kept the criminal justice major, too, so I can interact well with the police side of investigations now,” she said. “It has helped out a lot in my interactions with other agencies.”
Cairnduff sees lasting value in having paired CRJ with a psychology minor.
“It gives some insight into how certain individuals may be thinking,” he said. “There have been several individuals I have spoken with, including homicide suspects, child predators, and suicidal individuals, where I have recalled my education in how a person may be thinking and it assisted in how I responded.”
Elliott Cave ’11 took his Brockport training — a major in CRJ and minors in forensic science and sociology — across the country, before returning in 2014 to join the Brockport Police Department.
As an officer for US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), he worked on the Arizona/Mexico border for two years and on the New York/Canada border for eight months. This work immersed him in US laws regarding immigration, customs, and agriculture.
Cave learned about the CBP through Criminal Justice Career Day, a popular annual event organized by the CRJ Student Association. The event typically draws attendance from about 20 employers, including local correctional units, counseling agencies, probation and parole agencies, victim advocacy groups, sheriff’s offices, the US Marshals Office, and local law firms.
Cave was easily able to rattle off a list of Brockport experiences that prepared him well.
“I believe classes such as Criminology, Police Process, Police Problems, Investigations, Forensic Law, and Intro to Forensic Science were highly relevant to both of my law enforcement jobs,” said Cave. “I also did volunteer work for the Rochester Police Department, took many police civil service exams and other law enforcement–related entry tests and agility tests, and went on ride-alongs with several police departments.”
These days, Cave often finds himself walking the familiar paths of his alma mater — this time, patrolling in uniform.
Brown, too, took advantage of Brockport’s connections to other in-depth learning opportunities: a summer internship at a law firm in Dublin, Ireland, taught her about criminal proceedings outside of the US, and a week-long workshop at Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania furthered her interest in forensic anthropology through studies of trauma to bone.
The forensic science minor is the most popular minor at the College, with about 115 students currently enrolled. Another 60 or so minor in criminal justice, and an average of 140 complete the CRJ major each year, making it one of the largest undergraduate majors. This popularity also played into the Zippia ranking.
Bunch says an asset of the department is that many of the faculty integrate their other career expertise into their course material. They have worked — and some currently work — as attorneys, corrections officers, police officers, and advocates for children and domestic violence victims. They take students to their worksites, bring in guest speakers, and set up internships.
“They have so many boots-on-the-ground stories,” said Bunch. “Talking about those experiences in class keeps students interested and engaged. Their careers of service spill into serving us as well.”
Bunch is pleased to see the high marks the Zippia study gave Brockport for alumni’s career longevity.
“We are training students to do the job well and to stay in the job,” said Bunch.
Staying in the job is easy when there is such passion involved.
“The thing that I really love is evaluating the impact of crime on victims,” said Brown. “I’m able to help families through the death of an individual, and I’m able to understand more about the plights of the victims and their families.”
Cairnduff has also seen class exercises in forensics play out in the real world.
“I remember in one of Dr. Bunch’s classes, we were checking for blood drips/stains and attempting to dust for fingerprints,” Cairnduff said. “When I was working as a state trooper on the road, I was called to several breaking-and-entering complaints. Even after receiving professional training through my department, I thought back to these classes and to how fascinated I was with these techniques. I am not sure if it was my training, my classes at Brockport, or pure luck, but most of these crimes I solved. I have recovered several thousands of dollars of stolen property or arrested a suspect who was ultimately charged.”