Explore the Criminal Justice Online Program with Department Head Dr. David Khey

Written byZachary Schleter

“A lot of employers that we collaborate with come back semester after semester asking for more of our students. That’s how we know we’re doing something right.”

Dr. David Khey

As a kid, Dr. David Khey, professor and head of the University’s Department of Criminal Justice, aspired to be a medical doctor. At least, that’s what people told him he should be. 

But he felt drawn elsewhere. 

Growing up in South Florida in the 1980s and 1990s, crime and its effects were all around Dr. Khey. In 1979, the year he was born, a shootout in suburban Miami’s Dadeland Mall marked the beginning of what Dr. Khey describes as the “Cocaine Cowboys” era — a period of violent drug-related conflict throughout the area. 

“Looking at drug-use patterns when I was born, you’re talking about the peak of the drug-using era, in terms of the amount that people were using and the rates that people were using,” Dr. Khey says.

Against that backdrop of rampant drug use, anti-drug messages from programs like D.A.R.E., or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, were all around him while he witnessed relatives and friends serve prison time due to alcohol and cocaine addictions. 

When the time came to start a career, Dr. Khey decided to study criminology to better understand the issues that impacted his childhood. He later earned a master’s degree in sociology, a master’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences with a focus on forensic drug analysis, and a doctorate in criminology, law, and society. 

“I’ve just always been fascinated with crime, you know, being embedded in that culture,” he says. “I had amazing mentors that kept my curiosity flowing in terms of the world around us and how we designed it.” 

Now, as his department’s B.S. in Criminal Justice program expands to be offered 100% online, in addition to on campus, students across the country can join in on that curiosity. 

What is criminal justice? 

It’s a common misconception that criminal justice is only for those wanting to pursue careers in law enforcement. Dr. Khey asserts that the field as an academic discipline goes well beyond that. 

Housed within the University’s College of Liberal Arts, the B.S. in Criminal Justice program prepares students to think critically about a variety of crime-related issues. 

“It’s tough because criminal justice is a legacy term, where people think of the coppers and other first responders,” he says. “But criminal justice education is very multidisciplinary in nature. We take elements of human services, public health, and sociology to understand patterns of human life.” 

“Our objective is to respond to these patterns, using evidence and science to make decisions that will help the world.” 

What this evidence, science, and decision-making looks like can vary greatly within the field. 

For instance, Dr. Michelle Jeanis, associate professor of criminal justice, is particularly interested in missing persons cases. Her research spans everything from solvability factors to social media best practices in missing persons cases. 

“Missing persons is a unique field of study because we need law enforcement and we need the public to solve these cases,” Dr. Janis says. “It involves a lot of collaboration among agencies.” 

Meanwhile, Dr. Khey is specifically interested in drug policy and treatment. One of his current projects focuses on evaluating the D.A.R.E. curriculum to determine how evidence-based it is. 

What can I do with a degree in criminal justice? 

The criminal justice program opens the door to a range of opportunities, including in nonprofits, law enforcement agencies, private security, insurance, and more. 

“We have all sorts of social service employers and first responder agencies readily knocking on our door for students,” says Dr. Khey. “The sky is truly the limit in terms of how a student can employ the curiosity they gained in the program to help an employer.” 

Tala Tobeh, 2022 graduate of the program, now works for Louisiana’s state fusion center, assisting with case support for local, state, tribal, and federal agencies. 

Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, 1985 graduate of the program, went on to earn her Juris Doctor. She is now the CEO of Feeding America, a nationwide network of over 200 food banks. 

Many graduates of the program land roles in law enforcement. 

And while a degree isn’t always necessary for these roles, having a liberal arts degree can prepare officers to better understand the human issues underlying their work. 

“Having that level of expertise to your employer and your peers can be extremely helpful in terms of being more impactful in your community,” says Dr. Khey. “Police officers with a degree can understand how to de-escalate certain behaviors to avoid problematic outcomes because they know what to expect going into these kinds of interactions.” 

Why earn a degree online? 

Offering the bachelor’s in criminal justice program online is a way for Dr. Khey and his colleagues to reach students where they are and, ultimately, train those students to go out into their careers and make an impact. 

Many students in the program are active-duty service members or working law enforcement officers. 

“Online learning is just one tool that we have in our toolbox,” says Dr. Khey. “It matters on where people are in their lives, careers, and families to choose the kind of learning tool that helps them achieve what they’re looking to achieve. We as a diverse learning and teaching faculty know that.” 

Regardless of how a student chooses to complete their degree, the department’s goal, Dr. Khey says, remains the same: to develop informed citizens who can use data to make their own decisions. 

“It’s all about turning those lights on inside our students’ heads,” Dr. Khey says. “We want our students to be happy, get jobs, ask questions, and challenge practices in a way that’s respectful and contributes to an employer’s mission.” 

“A lot of employers that we collaborate with come back semester after semester asking for more of our students. That’s how we know we’re doing something right.” 

Use data to address crime and its underlying causes. Request information about the online bachelor’s in criminal justice program today. 

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