As an adjunct professor at Hodges University, Captain Michael Koval possesses 40 years of experience in law enforcement. Continuing his work as inspector for the North Port Police Department (NPPD), he remains an advocate for higher education among law enforcement officers, which is why he devotes his time to leading a cohort of NPPD officers who are in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
Promoted as a “wheel” program, the cohort covers three specific topics each semester, and although students enroll and graduate at different stages of the program, depending on the number of transfer credits, the typical duration to complete the cohort program is approximately two years.
Launching the cohort in fall 2017, Koval’s class currently consists of seven officers from surrounding sheriff’s offices (i.e., Sarasota, Charlotte and North Port). Although the class meets each Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to noon for in-class discussion, all of the coursework is completed online.
From discussion boards to term papers, Koval expects his students to provide thought-provoking answers, especially since students incorporate much of their professional experience into the topics covered in class.
“The great thing about college is it stimulates thinking and a lot of thinking outside the box…When you go out into the world and see it actually happening, you can bring that back into the class,” he said.
As someone who has built his career in law enforcement, Koval can attest to the importance of higher education and its impact and ability to help an individual succeed. Graduating from the West Virginia State Police Academy in 1974, he worked as a city policeman for 16 years. Earning an associate degree in criminal justice in 1978, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business in 1980, both from Fairmont State College.
In 1991, he was recruited by the Lee County Port Authority and made the move to Florida. Becoming a detective, Koval found himself investigating incidents at a nearby juvenile halfway house. After being offered the job to run the facility, Koval accepted, only to have the state cut the budget, leaving him out of a job.
Accepting a position at Collier County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) in 1996, he spent 14 years serving as a deputy, homicide investigator and director of training before retiring as captain in 2010. However, throughout his time at CCSO, he contemplated the idea of returning to school.
At the time, Hodges offered a Master of Science in criminal justice, and the school was just beginning its online course offerings. Absent from the university setting for 20 years, Koval was unsure of his ability to complete the program. “I always wanted a master’s degree, and I wanted to move into higher positions within law enforcement.” With the help of his professors, he successfully completed the program in 2001.
Reentering academia as a student and teaching various training courses at the CCSO, he discovered his love for teaching, building programs and teaching at nearby colleges and universities.
“I was able to make it part of the policy at Collier, and I’ve tried to bring it to North Port, that you have to have a college degree to even be considered to be hired,” he said.
Researching ways to provide officers the opportunity to earn a degree that is conducive to their schedules and specific needs, Koval began working with Hodges’ former director of admissions to create a criminal justice cohort program that would be held at the North Port Police Department.
“Police need the college education, and this program is convenient because they’re already there [police department], the majority of the students are North Port police officers, and they know where my office is. They can find me anytime,” he said. “I’ve had captains and detectives in this class walk into my office because they have questions about the material, so it’s a bit of a comfort level for them.”
Discussing a range of topics such as diversity, juvenile delinquency and victimology, Koval encourages his students to view different perspectives and consider how, as police officers, efforts can be made to create change. One example Koval describes is the topic of diversity. He and his class discussed how, according to the media, “all police in the United States are going out every day and killing African Americans for no reason,” he said. “There’s an average of 62-65 million police-citizen contacts every day, so you’ve got 65 million contacts where nobody gets shot or hit, and yet, we don’t see that. Everything is one-sided, but we ask, ‘How can we fix this?’ ‘How can we convince people not to listen so much to the media but become involved in the community?’”
Realizing the significance of these conversations, Koval understands that many of his students aspire to “make rank,” saying, “A college degree will benefit them as they move into positions of authority. This is where they will have the opportunity to develop new policies and procedures to address some of the issues we’re facing, as law enforcement, today.”