By Melanie Conner, APUS Alumni Relations Outreach Liaison and Steve Gonzalez, AMU Graduate
Steve Gonzalez, American Military University Class of May 2012, has been with the East Lansing, Michigan, Police Department for 20 years. During that time, he has risen in the ranks from police officer to lieutenant. Now a Deputy Chief, Steve is responsible for operational oversight of the department’s Patrol, Investigations, Records, Parking, and Administration divisions.
Steve earned a Master of Arts in Emergency and Disaster Management and a graduate certificate in Executive Law Enforcement Leadership. As a distinguished graduate of AMU, Steve is characteristic of the many alumni who have used their education to establish a rewarding career and to improve the well-being of their family and their community.
What have you been doing since you completed your master’s degree from AMU?
I have been employed full-time with the East Lansing Police Department since 1997, starting as a police officer. Upon completion of my master’s degree, I was promoted to Sergeant and later Lieutenant. I then went back to school a couple of years later to complete the graduate certificate.
While in those roles, I spent time assigned to our Patrol Division and Administrative Section, where I was either responsible for a patrol shift, coordinating the department’s hiring and training processes, or serving as the Public Information Officer. As you know, I was just recently promoted to Deputy Chief and am responsible for operational oversight of our department’s Patrol, Investigations, Records, Parking, and Administration divisions.
What inspired you to pursue a career in law enforcement?
Growing up, I always had an interest in being a police officer. This career field allows you to impact the community in so many ways.
Our department’s mission is “Quality Service, Safety, and Protection.” That simple statement gets to the heart of why I chose this career.
How did you prepare to enter this field?
Coming out of high school, I spent some time at both a community college and a Big 10 university, but I did not earn a four-year degree.
Instead, I opted to complete an associate degree in criminal justice and enter the police academy. Upon graduation from the academy, I was offered a position with East Lansing. After a few years on the job, I knew that advanced education was going to be instrumental in helping me achieve my professional goals.
It was at that point I chose to return to school. After taking a look at several schools and various degree programs, I chose AMU because the school offered a high-quality educational opportunity, coupled with the flexibility needed with a full-time career and young family.
Has the knowledge you acquired for your master’s degree and graduate certificate assisted you in the field?
Without a doubt. The skills, competence, and academic education I gained at AMU were key to my advancement at the police department. Without AMU, I would not have been able to achieve my career goals.
What are the biggest challenges that you face in your role?
Local law enforcement in Michigan has faced overwhelming budget challenges in the past several years. We have found ourselves doing more with less, which in turn has created a significant level of organizational stress in our agency.
It has become exponentially challenging to ensure the well-being of our officers and civilian employees, while at the same time meeting the needs of the department. As a command team, we have found this responsibility to be a difficult leadership problem to tackle. It has required innovation and significant outside-the-box thinking.
What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
My greatest accomplishment is family-oriented. Everyone in public safety understands the stresses this career field can place on a family.
I am blessed to have an extremely supportive wife and children; this just doesn’t work without them. I hope the examples my wife (also in law enforcement) and I set for our boys provide them with lifelong lessons of how service to our country or community is a noble and worthy effort.
What advice do you have to give to people seeking a career in law enforcement?
Education is key. As the law enforcement field progresses, we have found significant value in hiring police officers with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Higher education not only expands your knowledge base, but it also creates officers who can utilize critical thinking skills while they’re on the street.
Very rarely does our department hire officers with a two-year degree anymore. We hold ourselves to much higher standards and education is a piece of that puzzle.
What do you do in your free time?
Much of my time is centered around our family, but we enjoy as many outdoor pursuits as possible. I have long been a trail runner, competing in both marathon and ultra-marathon distance races. I enjoy getting out to the woods to simply take a break from a stressful job; a long-distance run can do wonders.