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Former Police Officer Goes to College


Former police officer John Richards brought a unique perspective to class discussions.
Photo by Janet Sassi

When John Richards, a career New York City police officer, was seriously injured in a car accident in the line of duty, his future in law enforcement was suddenly on hold.

“I was unable to return as a full-time active police officer, and was faced with the challenge of finding a new career,” said the native of Elmhurst, Queens. “I still had a desire to do public service, perhaps on the federal level, but when I started to look at the jobs in the field, most required a college degree.”

Following a few operations and nearly five years of rehabilitation, Richards decided to find a way to go back to school. In the fall of 2007, he found Fordham College of Liberal Studies in Tarrytown, and then moved with the campus to Westchester in 2008.

“I was interested in a college with a strong Catholic identity and an equally strong academic identity,” Richards said. “At Fordham, I also found that the staff was aware of adult student needs, and very receptive to them.”

Richards opted to earn a bachelor’s degree in legal and policy studies, a major that incorporated history, sociology, law and politics.

Having more than a decade of experience as a beat officer and then a narcotics detective, Richards parlayed what he’d learned in real life into some “life experience” credits in criminal justice and the investigative process.

“I knew the arrest process; I’d testified in court; and I had knowledge of New York state criminal law,” he said. “It fit well with some of the required courses.”

In spite of his recollection of being an “average student” in high school, Richards earned several College Level Examination Program (CLEP) credits in subjects he studied independently—American history, government and literature. With the life experience credits and CLEP credits, Richards completed his degree in three years, attending night and weekend courses while working as a security consultant.

Now in his mid-40s, Richards admitted that it was a difficult to go back to school after so many years away. But he said his desire to build a second career is strong—and he has a 3.9 grade point average to prove it. His high marks have placed him on the Dean’s List and into prestigious societies such as Alpha Sigma Lambda and Alpha Sigma Nu.

“I always felt that you can learn something at any age, from someone of any age,” said Richards, who thanks his wife for her support. “I also felt that, given my experience as a narcotics detective, I’ve brought a perspective to many of my classes that may not have always been available—and it made for some lively debates.”


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