Why an MPA if You’re a Public Safety Professional

SetoBy John Seto, Director of Housing Security, University of Michigan Division of Public Safety and Security

When I decided to pursue a graduate degree, the obvious question for me was: In what “major?”  At that time, I had already been a police officer for over 20 years, and to be honest, I just wanted to have a graduate degree on my resume.  I already had 12 graduate level credits from completing Police Staff and Command, and I also just wanted to get done as quickly as possible.  As I look back now, although perhaps practical, those were not the right reasons for spending the time and effort in obtaining a graduate degree. 

In 2011, I met Dr. Ohren during a Leadership Ann Arbor event.  Within a week, I was in his office discussing the classes I would need to obtain an MPA.  Whether it was the passion with which he spoke about public administration during that initial meeting, or the relevance I found in many of the required courses as it related to my position at that time as a deputy chief, by the time we were done, I was convinced that the MPA program was for me.

Within a year of beginning the program, I was appointed chief of police, and many of the classes took on new meaning for me.  Budgeting never really mattered to me that much until I had to appear before city council to present a budget.  I thought I already knew a lot about personnel management because as a deputy chief, I was responsible for issuing discipline.  I soon realized that every significant personnel matter always came back to the chief. 

Disciplinary appeals, grievances, arbitration hearings, and contract negotiations became a regular aspect of management.  Local government and public policy courses provided additional insight for me as part of a city leadership team.  Research methods became a useful tool in analyzing many law enforcement initiatives.  The practical aspects of some of the classes were readily apparent, while others took some time for me to later realize their usefulness. 

Law enforcement today is a rewarding -- but challenging -- profession.  The current state of police-community relations across the country is at the forefront of every police executive’s mind.  Transparency and accountability, body-worn cameras, police oversight, and training in de-escalation, implicit bias, and mental health are the expectations of most communities.  The external expectations from the public, as well as the internal needs of the department, must be balanced in the everyday decisions of police leaders today.    

In addition to the knowledge I gained from the classes and professors, completing my MPA degree also produced a desire to teach.  During my time now as a part-time lecturer and presenter in different law enforcement leadership training programs, I have the opportunity to meet our young leaders in law enforcement.  I’m encouraged to find the next generation consists of many dedicated and talented police leaders and managers.  My hope is that my brief contact with some of them will have the same effect as that chance meeting I had with Dr. Ohren. Perhaps they, too, will pursue a MPA degree, which may help them, as much as it did me, to prepare for the challenges of police leadership in the 21st century.

John Seto, 2015 EMU MPA alum, served 25 years with the Ann Arbor Police Department and retired as the Chief of Police.  He is currently the Director of Housing Security, University of Michigan Division of Public Safety and Security.

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