While many police officers begin their careers with criminal justice degrees or experience, one officer at the University of Rhode Island has based his career in philosophy.
Officer Austin Webb graduated from the University of Hawaii – Manoa in Honolulu with a degree in philosophy. He was hired by the university in January of 2014 and graduated from the police academy that May. Webb said that he had always had an understanding of philosophy, and felt that it would be helpful as he did not yet know what we wanted to do for his career.
“It’s something that you could apply to most areas of study or any kind of job market really,” Webb said. “It teaches you how to think logically, and I think that’s the foundation for any kind of successful career.”
Webb worked to pay for his own education, specifically working during his time in Hawaii as a dispatcher for the military police in Hawaii on a Marine Corps base. His time as a dispatcher influenced him to use his philosophy degree to move forward with a police career when he returned to his home state, Rhode Island, after graduation.
“I saw what police officers did,” Webb said. “I don’t think I really had a good sense of it [before]. A lot of my family were firefighters, so I never really had many police in my family, so I never know how it really worked, I never hung around a station. As I worked in dispatch I realized I was pretty good at communication, and I’d rather be out in the field than in an office.”
Through his philosophy courses, Webb said his police work is supported by the rational thinking and simplified explanations that he had to use in school. These same courses also helped him to compare the various sides of a situation.
“I think thinking rationally is the foundation of any kind of successful career,” Webb said. “To be able to see the difference between reasonable thinking leading to a conclusion and irrational thinking is a big part of the decision-making process. And really police work is fundamentally a decision-making process and if you can weigh those things out more quickly, and you’re more practiced in it, then that’s great. If you can talk to people and explain to them things in a simplified way, a lot of philosophy is that.”
Webb said that the university police are academy graduates to the same extent that officers in any other police department are. Since URI is an open campus he said that the police not only have to be prepared to deal with students but also anyone who comes onto the campus; which can entail handling felonies and warrants.
“It’s an interesting job but I think a lot of people don’t realize that it entails more than taking beers away from 18-year-old kids,” Webb said. “I think a lot of places like this, large universities, are a lot like a town anyway in terms of the variety of calls you have. This [area] has full streets, it has residents, it has workers, it has restaurants, it’s not much different than a regular town.”
Depending on the time of day an officer’s shift is their experiences on the job may be very different, according to Webb. He said that he isn’t often surprised while working, since he came from a large college himself.
“My shift starts at midnight,” Webb said. “And from midnight to 5 o’clock in the morning I’d say the vast majority of people aren’t going about their daily business… So a lot of people that you’re dealing with are partying, people that are under the influence of alcohol. There’s also people that just stay up late, so you have a wide variety of people. You’ll have less people most of the time, but I think that the crowd you’re dealing with is a different crowd than your daily hustle and bustle during the day shift.”
Webb finished Violent Crimes Investigation (VCI) school last year, working overtime every Friday for two semesters in order to complete the course. He said that the course is mainly for those who are trying to become or already are detectives, and includes lessons on fingerprints, crime scene photography, processing crime scenes, documenting crime scenes, presenting in court, case files and blood spatter.
“[I gained] the ability to look at a crime scene in a different way than I had before; how to preserve evidence, how to keep a crime scene the best way possible [for] the crime being solved,” Webb said. “We don’t realize at the same time, not just addressing the emergency but solving the case in its entirety involves preserving the crime scene and addressing it in a certain way, and that can make or break an entire case.”