Clay Emery (copy)

Gila Institute for Technology Superintendent Clay Emery.

The Gila Institute for Technology will be offering a criminal justice program starting next fall and enrollment for the course will open in January.

Clay Emery is excited for the new program because it will help high school students and college freshmen earn a certificate in the field of criminal justice.

There is a demand for police officers everywhere, but in Graham and Greenlee counties there is an especially high demand because half of all of their current police officers will be eligible to retire within the next five years, Emery, the GIFT superintendent, said. Police departments are having a hard time recruiting candidates so he decided to partner again with the college and create a criminal justice path.

Students who enroll in the program will take two classes each semester for four semesters and when finished they will have around 24 credits each, enough for a criminal justice certificate from EAC.

Since police officers have to be at least 21, students can continue their education until they can become officers and/or they can work as a corrections officer or dispatcher.

Having a formal education is often to an officer’s benefit, Emery said. Officers who earn a bachelor’s degree often advance beyond the role of officer to sergeant, lieutenant and beyond.

GIFT is a JTED or joint technical education district. Since 2000, the state, school districts and taxpayers have been splitting the cost of teaching students skills they can use straight out of high school to obtain jobs or study in college. Students throughout the Valley and Greenlee County can attend vocational education classes at Eastern Arizona College, their high school or at another high school if it’s not offered at their own. About 200 to 250 GIFT students take classes at EAC annually.

This newest program provides the opportunity for students to go anywhere in the country to become police officers, Emery said.

Kris Matthews, a former Arizona Department of Public Safety officer, will teach the majority of the classes.

“I can’t think of an area anywhere in the country that has enough police officers right now because of our political climate and other reasons, [officers] are leaving the profession,” Emery said.

In order to recruit new students, Emery and EAC instructors visit schools in Graham and Greenlee counties and present the various opportunities available to them.

Counselors have told him the criminal justice program is a higher interest area for students, Emery said.

They feel confident based on what counselors are saying and from what they have heard from students they will have 15-20 students start the program next year, Emery said.

The program is open to high school-aged students who are in charter schools or being homeschooled. It’s also available to students who have dropped out. If students are joining the program while still in high school, they need to be on track to graduate.

“It is a win for the college, it is a win for us, it is a win for the kids and the community,” Emery said.

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