A few weeks ago, I took the opportunity to conduct a virtual interview with John Ferinde, a graduate student pursuing a professional master's degree in Public Safety Leadership and Administration. John spoke candidly about his experience in the PLA program and how well he thinks the Trump administration has handled the pandemic.
Tianying: Hi John. Let me start by asking you about your current job.
John: I am the Lieutenant in charge of the Anti-corruption Unit for the Baltimore Police Department.
Tianying: Can you describe your work?
John: We handle internal affairs cases that are criminal in nature. If an officer commits a crime, we investigate that and we also do proactive integrity testing, which involves presenting police with situations and then evaluating them based on how they respond. We police the police. Every major case of corruption that newspapers report, this unit is quietly behind the scenes investigating. Other agencies typically receive credit but it is the Anti-corruption Unit that is doing the work.
Tianying: What are your academic goals?
John: I just finished my master’s program with UMGC, and I was enjoying it, so I decided to keep going. First, I looked at doctoral programs, but...it was just overwhelming to look at, so I kind of started looking around for different programs to go into and found that the University of Maryland is the highest ranked program for criminal justice in the United States. I was looking into the University of Maryland programs, and then coincidentally received an email about the PLA program, so it was fate. But as far as my academic goals, I want to get a second master’s degree.
Tianying: Well, what are your academic interests?
John: I’ve been in the police department for 23 years, and I enjoy doing work in criminal justice. Doing this program in “Leadership and Public Safety” kind of fits that interest. My master’s degree is in Emergency Management, I didn’t mind doing Emergency Management, but I found that every time I had an assignment or wrote a paper, I’d always do it on the police side of management. I guess you could say I have an academic interest in policing.
Tianying: I hear you’re taking Dr. Andrist’s ethics class. Is that right?
Tianying: What do you think about it?
John: I like it. It’s always interesting to learn about ethics. I get what he’s doing: getting in the face of it and everything and, you know, going back to Aristotle. I even called him at one point and was just like, “My head is swimming over all this stuff”, because you know, I’m used to the everyday kind of applications of ethical issues that police face. So, when we’re talking about Socrates, I can leave that for more practical topics, but I also understand why we need the base information.
Tianying: Would you say the online format of the PLA classes is convenient for you?
John: Yes! I got my bachelor’s degree and my master’s degree from UMGC, and being an online student is, I mean, honestly the only way to do it, as far as I’m concerned. With my other responsibilities, including my wife and my kids, and all that kind of stuff...In an online program, I can simply do the work when I need to do it. To balance work, family and school being online allows me to do school work when it's convenient for me without affecting other parts of my life.
Tianying: How do you balance your work and study?
John: I do balance things. Work, obviously, it’s got to come first for me because it pays all the bills. I work my normal work hours, and spend time with family, and then I start working on school. On Sunday, I’ll spend all day just doing school. It is super helpful when the Professor has all the assignments in the class ready well in advance of the deadline, so I can either work ahead or schedule my life with completing assignments in mind.
Tianying: What do you think is the most important ethical issue facing police at the present time?
John: Racial discrimination is a huge deal, within police work right now. That’s where we have to probably get better. It’s difficult because of the past. Policies in the past. They were not necessarily racist policies meaning that police attempting to fight crime did not necessarily mean to be racist. They were policies that were enacted that had a detrimental effect on low-income and People of Color, if that makes sense. Like, the person who came up with the policy wasn’t thinking about race but the policy had an extreme effect on minority communities. So in policing right now, it’s kind of, you know, coming out of that difficult time. It’s all about community policing now. However, part of the problem is that there is no real set definition of community policing. I’m sure on the academic side there is, but among police, there’s just, you know, “How do police serve their community?” Each segment of the community has different needs and police are being asked to decipher those needs and help those communities navigate conflict. It is difficult for officers who are being asked to do everything for everyone. Tianying: From an emergency management perspective, what do you think people working on public policy can do to help improve public safety during this pandemic?
John: So, part of the problem with the pandemic is that the federal government, specifically the Trump administration, has politicized it, though the pandemic is not a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s a public health issue. The policies should be of a public health nature. It should be, you know, “What can we do to stop this disease?” which means shutting down large parts of our society. This has a terrible economic impact, but we’re now at 240,000 people dead. It’s going to double, if we don’t act in a responsible manner. So I think the policies coming out of any government should be that of closing things down in order to prevent events that spread the disease. I’m not trying to politicize the Trump administration, but the lack of desire to wear masks and stuff like that, it just doesn’t make any sense. You’re just causing other people to get sick. And, you know, the 20-year-old that doesn’t get sick doesn’t really feel the symptoms of COVID too bad are spreading the illness to people who are vulnerable. The nation's hospital system is the best in the world and treats millions of people a year; however, the hospitals can not handle an influx of critical care patients at the magnitude that COVID is causing. That has always been the issue with this pandemic. Doctors and Nurses can treat COVID but they can not treat COVID while treating all the other illnesses at the same time. COVID is overwhelming the system including first responders. In a public health sense, politicizing an illness is just irresponsible.