|The magazine of University of Houston-Clear Lake
fall 2012 | volume 19 | number 1
Making the Grade
UHCL Police Rack up Accomplishments
Christina Hux always wanted to be a nurse. An elective course in criminology during her freshman year at San Jacinto College changed all that. Although switching majors is common for many during their first two years in college, Hux’s drastic move from nursing to criminology caused a little bit of a controversy in her home.
“When I told my mom I thought I would change my degree plans, she looked at me and said, ‘Are you nuts?’,” says the now 25-year-old Hux, a police officer in UHCL’s Police Department. “But I knew it was the right change for me, and my parents have been very supportive.”
The introductory class in criminology just “scratched the surface” says Hux, but it was enough to make her ask questions; so many questions, in fact, that her professor suggested that she change her degree plan. She did and has not looked back. Her transfer to UHCL resulted in a 2009 Bachelor of Science and a 2010 Master of Arts in Criminology, and her first opportunity to become a member of the UHCL Police Department.
Hux is one of 17 police officers on the force, and one of three UHCL alumni including Chief of Police Paul Willingham, who completed his Master of Arts in Criminology in May 2011. In addition to officers, 10 civilian employees complement the force, with three of them holding degrees from UHCL, bringing the total to five alumni in the department. The department also has four student employees, all attending UHCL, and two full-time employees who are current UHCL students.
“It’s not mandatory for the officers to have degrees,” says Willingham. “But we certainly encourage all in the department to take advantage of the opportunities at UH-Clear Lake including the college-release time.”
Currently, police officers in Texas are only required to have at least a GED, but gaining an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree can help in the promotion process. In addition to those holding degrees, Willingham proudly speaks about those who are continuing to take classes while working, including one of the dispatchers taking core courses at a community college, one who is taking online classes at another university and another who is completing coursework at UHCL. The police department also has two part-time student customer service employees, and is in the process of hiring additional student employees to provide parking lot security and night-time safety escorts.
“I was here; I was working at a university that offered a grad degree in my area,” says Willingham discussing his decision to work on a master’s degree. “I enjoy the educational process, and I want to offer a good example to the others in my department.”
Hux’s decision to attend UHCL’s criminology classes came after talking to a fellow student at the community college who told her about the outstanding criminology program at UHCL. With a little research of her own, Hux found out about nationally known faculty members such as Associate Professors of Criminology Steven Egger and Everette Penn. She made her decision. Next, Hux’s goal was to get a job, so she applied at the UHCL Police Department.
“I began working as a dispatcher my first semester — August 2007,” says Hux proudly. “I worked in dispatch until December 2009 when I transferred to tech services within the department.”
While working full-time, Hux completed her undergraduate degree and immediately enrolled for her master’s degree — a program she finished in just a year by taking full class loads. Just when one might think Hux might have had enough with classwork, in July 2011 she went to the Alvin Community College Law Enforcement Academy. Between work and the academy, Hux put in 20-hour days by taking night classes, enrolled in a part-time schedule at the academy while working full-time as a technician in the police department.
With her two degrees in criminology, Hux believes she might have had a slight advantage over others in the academy without degrees.
Says Hux, “Many of the things we addressed in the academy, I was able to explain with theories I had learned in my college courses.”
In May 2012 after completing her police academy courses, Hux was sworn in as one of the newest additions to the UHCL Police Department, and the chief was glad to have her on board. Willingham has spent 22 years as a police officer, something he says was “accidental.”
“At the time I started, I needed the money for school,” explains Willingham. “Once on the force, everything just clicked and I forgot about finishing my degree. Then about six or seven years later I thought I should finish college to help with promotional advancement.”
Willingham received his undergraduate degree online from Mountain State University in West Virginia and then, once at UHCL, his master’s degree. He moved through the ranks at his previous department, eventually becoming a lieutenant, but it was his arrival at UHCL that gave him his first opportunity as chief. It also gave him a chance to explore his dream of being a teacher. Willingham believes that in his current role, one of his jobs as chief is to teach.
Not only has he led the UHCL officers since 2007, but he has also worked to get the department accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, an honor held by less than 4 percent of law enforcement agencies and 1.3 percent of campus police agencies in the U.S. To maintain the accreditation, agencies must not only submit reports on an annual basis, but also be prepared for site visits from the accreditation group every three years. The vote by the commission to grant accreditation to the UHCL department was unanimous.
“The accreditation process is a long one that we began in 2008,” says Willingham. “We developed policies, procedures and practices to meet the industry best standards created by the commission.
“With the CALEA-based blueprint in place, we now have a means to continually develop, review and adjust our efforts to meet the best practices and standards in the industry.”
Meeting the best practices and standards shouldn’t be hard, especially with dedicated officers like Hux on the force. When asked what she most enjoys about her job, she is quick with her response: “I like giving back to the area and community that has given me so much.”
On the flipside of that question, she pauses. What is it she likes least? Paperwork.
“We have a lot of reports to write,” she explains. “But, it is necessary paperwork to maintain the guidelines set forth by the state.”
She also wants to set the record straight when it comes to a common misperception people have about the police force and UHCL.
“Unfortunately, people often hear and read about one bad apple in a police force somewhere else and then all of law enforcement gets a bad rap,” says Hux. “Fortunately at UHCL, we don’t have those issues.”
Hux says a typical day can range from investigating a suspicious character or escorting custodial staff to their cars late at night. But, just like city police officers, they are licensed police officers and are ready for anything.
In 2011, StateUniversity.com named UHCL number two in the state for campus safety on a scale that accounts for severity of crime as well as frequency of crime. Nationally, UHCL has been in the top 25 of all public schools for four consecutive years. As Willingham points out, the rankings include junior colleges and community colleges. Excluding those, UHCL has been in the top 5 nationally for degree-granting institutions since 2008.
“We believe that providing a secure atmosphere conducive to the education, employment and daily community lifestyles of UHCL is an important mission,” says Willingham.
And it’s certainly a mission the force supports.
“The students who come to school here are trying to further their education and their careers; they are here because they want to be and are focused on the task at hand — their education,” says Hux. “The Police Department is very community-oriented, and I like to think our presence is noticed.”
And, although the world may be one nurse short, the UHCL community benefits by adding an educated and dedicated officer.
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