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What to Know about Pursuing a Career in Criminal Justice

Podcast with Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice and
Dr. Michael Pittaro, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice

Are you interested in working in law enforcement or the criminal justice field? In this episode, Dr. Jarrod Sadulski talks to AMU Criminal Justice professor Dr. Michael Pittaro about his new book, “Pursuing and Navigating a Career in Criminal Justice,” based on his 30+ years of experience working in the criminal justice system. Learn how to get into the field, including tips on preparing for the interview process, the background check, as well as the physical and psychological exams. Once hired, learn what to expect in the Academy, during the probational period, and how to set yourself up for future promotions. Also learn how to navigate the many challenges that law enforcement brings including stress, burnout, low morale, and mental health issues as well as some of the critical coping mechanisms to manage the stress and difficulties of the profession.

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Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Hello everybody, welcome to our podcast today. Today we have an expert in criminal justice that’s going to be speaking with us. Welcome, Dr. Michael Pittaro.

Dr. Michael Pittaro: Thank you, sir. I appreciate it. I appreciate the invitation to join you.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: So to provide our audience a little bit of a background on Dr. Pittaro, Dr. Pittaro is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice with American Military University, and an adjunct professor with East Stroudsburg University and North Hampton Community College.

Before pursuing a career in higher education, Dr. Pittaro worked in corrections administration, serving as an Executive Director of an outpatient drug and alcohol facility, as well as an Executive Director of a crime prevention agency.

He has 32 years of experience and education in criminal justice, and he continues to serve as an international author, trainer, and subject matter expert in criminal justice. He’s had over 150 publications which have included three book publications, and he’s the author of a new book that just came out, “Pursuing and Navigating a Career in Criminal Justice.” So as we begin, Dr. Pittaro, can you share us what the inspiration was behind your new book?

Dr. Michael Pittaro: Yes indeed, Jarrod. The idea actually came about a few years ago, but it’s been on my mind for several years. But, most recently, someone on Facebook just posed one of those random questions that you often see in one of those kind of grab-type of ads. And it said, “What advice would you give your younger self?” And I responded, and then after I responded, I was like, “Boy.” I responded again and again and again, I kept commenting.

So that actually turned out to be the beginning of the first chapter of the book, basically telling or advising individuals, particularly high school and university students, what they can expect for a career in criminal justice, but also, once you’re in the field, how to navigate through some of the challenges that we face, particularly as it has to do with stress, burnout, low morale, and then, of course, suicide in our profession.

[Related: Suicide Among Corrections Officers: It’s Time for an Open Discussion]

So I just kind of took it from there and then used some of my old research articles, and put together 14 chapters. And, honestly, I think it’s one of a kind, it’s the only book like it in the market that I know of. And it’s probably one of the most comprehensive and it’s practical, it’s real world. It’s real life, no holds barred.

I told both the pros and the cons of this field and what you can expect from it, but also how to survive in it, not just physically as survival, but also mentally, which I think is something that’s lacking in our profession, is our mental well-being.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: It’s an excellent book. I’ve been reviewing it. I noticed in chapter two, it talks about criminal justice opportunities at the local, state and federal government level. As we look through the book, can you share with our audience in regard to those opportunities?

Dr. Michael Pittaro: Just things I’ve learned along the way, making contacts. I’m all about networking, trying to increase your networking, improve your networking with others. When I was 21, I applied for some federal positions and you apply and you never hear back. It goes into some type of cyber space and you never really hear from anyone.

So trying to take the back door approach for something. For example, like the FBI, maybe try for an analyst position. Once you’re in, then you get through your probationary period. You’re considered an in-house employee. It’s much easier then, to move on to an agent position or to even transfer to another federal agency.

So things that I wish I would’ve known earlier on, but also things that I wish my professors had told me when I was an undergraduate student. Most of them were straight Ph.D.’s, very intelligent people, great professors, but really didn’t have a lot of real-world experience to back that up. And I think that’s what makes individuals like you and I a little bit different, is that we’ve kind of been there, done that. And also, by holding leadership positions, we know exactly what we want from our criminal justice professionals.

So that was part of the reason for it, and focusing on the local level, your county courthouse, and then at your state level with the civil service system or career service system, whatever the state uses, trying to kind of navigate through that process so that your application, when you fill it out, doesn’t just simply disappear and go to some unknown space, kind of following up with it.

So I offer tips on how you could follow up with your application to find the status, see where you’re ranked and so forth. So to kind of keep you a little bit more in the loop, as far as whether or not you have a chance to actually get to the interview stage.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: So for our readers that are going to go and read the book, what can our readers expect to learn from your book in terms of preparation, recommendation letters, resumes, things along those lines?

Dr. Michael Pittaro: Everything. Honestly, everything. It’s 32 years of experience in that book. I started out from when I was a senior in college and kind of worked my way up to present day. Everything I learned, social media, what to put on social media, what to stay away from on social media; how to prepare for the interviews, how to prepare for the psychological, how to prepare for the polygraph, kind of touching on virtually everything that you could possibly imagine.

And also, talking about the taboo subjects, the corruption in our field, how to avoid that, the temptations, how to keep control of your emotions so that you don’t end up on CNN or Fox News, or anything like that because that’s a huge concern.

I focus heavily on emotional intelligence. I focus on being present, knowing when you’re getting angry, when you’re getting frustrated, and how to deal with those emotions more effectively, so that you don’t end up in a situation that could potentially cost you your job or even worse, end up in prison yourself.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: I notice in chapter three you discuss experience and education leading up to preparing an applicant for applying for their job. What can your readers expect to learn in terms of military experience and work experience?

Dr. Michael Pittaro: Well, for education, let me start with education first. I always have students—since I teach also at the community college—I have students that want to get into law enforcement or corrections, and with the associate’s degree, that’s most definitely possible. But most of them are young so what I try to tell them is that, “Okay, this is great. This gets your foot in the door and you will get the job. However, down the road, when you want a promotion or you want to transfer to another particular position, it’s going to be more difficult without having that education.”

So I always encourage them to go on for their bachelor degree so they can continue moving up the ladder. Associate’s degree will definitely open the door, but a bachelor’s degree will open up far more doors. So that’s one of the things I stress with it.

The military experience, as you know, is definitely going to help. That’s definitely a nice segue into the criminal justice profession. As you know, most who end up in corrections, law enforcement, and even probation and parole, will have some type of military background. So that’s essential as well, but not necessary, but it does definitely help.

For example, I’m one of the few that doesn’t have military experience. I regret it to this day, but unfortunately, I did not pursue that route. I went straight to college and I’ve just been fortunate, but I wish that I were, or did, have that particular military experience. I think that would’ve helped me along the way.

As far as experience, one of the things I stress early on is, particularly for the younger people that are in college and their resumes are somewhat very limited, I guess you could say, to fast foods, to warehouse work, to retail and things of that nature, but they’re still learning job skills. Everything that they’re learning are transferable job skills.

So not to underestimate or discount what they’re learning in their job at say, Burger King. So you’re still learning about teamwork. You’re still learning about time management. You’re learning about responsibility, accountability. And then, stressing, don’t burn that bridge because you may need that person, because some of the background investigations, as you know, will go pretty far back.

So you don’t want to burn any bridges as you go along. So it may be just a job to you now, but it also could be a helpful way to get you into your professional career later on.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: That’s a great point. That’s a lesson that I could’ve learned from your book years ago had it been available. This is an excellent resource for anyone that’s interested in any one of the many, many career fields that the field of criminal justice offers. Does your book outline the pre-employment and hiring process?

Dr. Michael Pittaro: Yes, yes. I take it from kind of like more of the traditional law enforcement since law enforcement does probably the most extensive background checks. So, I took through each stage, borrowing some excerpts from articles written by yourself, of course, Jarrod. And then of course, some of our other AMU colleagues, trying to piece together what one can expect as they’re going through each phase.

For example, getting ready for the physical evaluation, not just meeting the minimum standards, but also trying to exceed those standards because it’s all about the ranking, where you score in the ranking. So I included a lot of details from the Pennsylvania State Police, because a lot of my students in Pennsylvania have gone on to become State Troopers.

So I took a lot of the information as to what they went through, through each step, and I help guide them through a lot of those phases to get into the State Police, and they’ve all been successful. So it’s kind of just like guidance and advice of what to expect at each stage, and then preparing for the next one once you get through it.

And even if something happens like you don’t get in the first time, don’t give up, continue onward, have some confidence in yourself. It’s just maybe not your time at the moment, but give it another shot or take it kind of a backdoor approach or a different route.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: From my experience in law enforcement, I’ve always heard that the most difficult part of the job is getting hired. And then once you are on the job, things get easier. A lot of people that I know that have gone through a career in criminal justice have a lot of apprehension about the Academy and the probationary period. Does your book cover what to expect in the Academy?

Dr. Michael Pittaro: Absolutely. Covering Academy, as well as the probationary period. It’s a long process from start to finish, from the first day that you submit your application all the way through, and then finally getting a conditional offer of employment, and then going through the probationary period.

So I go over each step, all the way through probationary period, explaining that for some, it could be a matter of a few months, six months, a year, and some positions, two years or more before you’re off that probationary status. So I go through all the steps as to little things that I’ve learned along the way.

For example, I’m a big advocate for never being someplace on time, but rather early. I’m not sure my family’s on board with that all the time when I drag them out, but to me, if you’re on time, you’re late. So staying after your shift for a little bit longer to resolve any issues so that no one has to worry about it, who replaces you or the next day, or something of that nature, showing up early for your shift.

Those things to me, speak volumes of your character, but if you have your keys in your hand and it’s 4:59 and you leave at 5:00, that also tells me a lot about you as a worker. So trying to just kind of present yourself as a professional at all times, and that’s kind of staying under the radar, if you would, by doing all the things that make you appear in a positive light, rather than doing anything that’s going to make you appear in a negative light, and that could affect your chances of a promotion down the road.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: You had briefly touched on it, but, obviously, the last couple years, the police have been under a lot of scrutiny. Does the book cover what to expect in terms of dealing with morality, avoiding toxic relationships, things that can help the officer long-term on the job?

Dr. Michael Pittaro: I focus three chapters that covers that. So focusing on how to deal with the media. The media’s going to exaggerate things. The media’s intention is to obviously get people to read their articles, buy their magazines, watch their news reports, and so forth. Not saying it’s necessarily bias, but there is a level of biasness to it.

So trying to deal with the stress and the low morale, and the burnout, of course, and to expect that it’s somewhat normal. Really, honestly, I think it’s part of our profession that you’re going to experience these things at some point. It could be early on in your career, it could be later, but what to expect when it starts to happen, how to recognize the signs. And you could say, even the symptoms, depending if it’s stress, because as you know, stress can affect you physically as well as emotionally.

[Download Magazine: Understanding and Managing Law Officer Stress]

And then how to deal with it once you’re feeling a little stressed out, how can you process it? What can you do to kind of relieve that stress? And I’ve only basically used things that have worked for me, but also have a scientific background to it. So there’s evidence-based research, including that as well.

So I think that’s important because it’s not just Mike Pittaro telling you his story. It’s Mike Pittaro telling you his story, but with all the research backing it up, and also input from his colleagues like individuals like yourself. So to show that we’re all on the same page with this, that this is definitely good advice and guidance in trying to survive this profession.

And as you know, in law enforcement and corrections, in particular, we have a suicide rate that is two to four times higher than that of the general public, and that’s very concerning. Now we’re talking about it more and more these days, but we’re not actually doing more about it these days.

So one of the goals with the book is also to get out there, the awareness of what’s going on and that we are dying by our own hands, rather than in the course of duty like most assume, and to prevent these things from occurring. And it’s just not the mental health that I’m worried about.

It’s also the physical health. We have higher rates of hypertension and cardiovascular disease, a lot of physical ailments that we shouldn’t be experiencing at a younger age. That’s kind of an area that I’m really passionate about, is really trying to help others so that they don’t end up having any physical and/or emotional problems down the road in their careers.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Awesome. So the book not only explains to readers how to get into the profession, but also explains to readers how to navigate some of the pitfalls that result in the statistics, in terms of higher cardiovascular disease, higher suicide rates compared to the general public. So excellent, excellent information. We’re going to take a break, but before we do, can you share with our readers where they can locate your book?

Dr. Michael Pittaro: Absolutely. The book was published directly through Kendall-Hunt Publishing, but it’s also available on Amazon. The book can be delivered in two ways. It could be an e-book through Kindle, or it can actually be the soft cover through Amazon or through Kendall Hunt Publishing. The e-book is now currently priced at $39.99, and the soft cover for $79.99.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: I’m very, very excited about your book, and I think that everyone that has an interest in going into the criminal justice field, and even family members that may not be going into the field themselves but have a family member that is interested in it, or is going into the criminal justice field, I strongly recommend that they read this book because especially as it gets into dealing with not only how to get the job, but the challenges of what to expect on the job. And I think that’s critically important for both criminal justice practitioners, as well as their family members, to understand how to navigate the stress and the burnout that we discussed.

One of the things that I’ve been researching in the last couple years, that I think there’s a strong opportunity to help officers in dealing with some of the common challenges that occur through stress and burnout is emotional intelligence. Does your book cover that?

Dr. Michael Pittaro: Oh yes, sir. Definitely does. In fact, not only do I cover that in one entire chapter, but during the pandemic, I actually went back to receive a Master’s certification in Emotional Intelligence, which I absolutely love. It’s such a fascinating field and it really does work, and it’s something that’s been used in the business sector for decades, but unfortunately hasn’t necessarily been fully embraced in criminal justice, but it’s so important because simply stated, it’s about how you react and respond to situations, how to read body language, how to interpret your own feelings when you’re starting to get worked up, or you feel like you may lose control. And to me, it’s a great way to stop from crossing that line from the use of physical force that is necessary, to that which is unnecessary.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: So your book covers what to expect in terms of stress and burnout associated with stress that comes from policing in the criminal justice field. Does your book also address how to deal with stress management in terms of positive psychological or emotional coping mechanisms?

Dr. Michael Pittaro: I cover the areas as recognized in what symptoms or negative coping skills that you may be seeing in yourself. For example, one of the worst that we see, but yet one of the most common is alcohol, to the point where it becomes problematic drinking, or even worse yet, becomes alcohol abuse. Because we have a tendency not to share a lot of information as a profession. We’re somewhat of a distrustful group.

So we don’t share a lot of information with individuals. And then for some people like our family members, oftentimes, we don’t feel like we want to burden them with some of the issues that we’re going through. So we kind of keep that inside and bottle that up, but, unfortunately, it’s going to come out in some type of negative fashion, and drinking is one of them. Irritability was another, you could lose your temper. So trying to recognize when this is happening, and then I offer strategies on how to minimize it, how to keep it under control.

There’s no real cure for it per se, but you can control these behaviors so that you don’t end up succumbing to one of the statistics where you become an alcoholic, or you have issues that affect you on the job or at home. And also, being able to separate what’s happening on the job from bringing it in into your home life, or vice versa, bringing your home life into your job.

So there’re little skills that I’ve learned along the way, and once again, kind of backed up by the science, showing that this does work. And again, through every chapter, every word within every chapter, I’ve either experienced it directly or I’ve known others to experience it.

So it’s not just based on research, it’s based on personal perspective of what I’ve encountered along the way. I went through the burnout. I went through the depression. I know what that’s like to hit that dark area, where you start thinking pretty dark thoughts, and what worked for me to get myself out of that, what continues to work for me if I end up in a deep depression.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Excellent information. Like I said, I recommend everybody that’s going into the field of criminal justice, or anyone that has a family member in the field of criminal justice and they want to understand why perhaps their loved one is acting a certain way, or they may recognize stress or burnout in their loved one, and may want to understand why that exists, and what could be done to overcome that. This book is the one and only source that I’m aware of that has all of this information contained in one book. So we’ve talked a lot about what’s in the book. One of my last questions is, does the book also cover leadership practices?

Dr. Michael Pittaro: Absolutely. When I was pursuing my doctorate degree, I came across one particular theoretical approach to leadership, and I was immediately hooked to its transformational leadership. And I realized that this is the style that I’ve embraced. This is the style that I’ve been attracted to. And when people ask me to explain it, I compare it to somewhat like a coach and mentor.

So criminal justice unfortunately has the reputation of being a little bit punitive from a leadership perspective, a little too authoritative, but I feel that you would get more by mentoring others, by kind of coaching them what needs to be done better. So that approach has worked for me in the criminal justice field, as a leader in the criminal justice field and also as an educator. So I’ve carried this particular leadership approach all the way through my career and I completely embrace it, and I believe that it works.

And once again, the literature backs it up. The National Institute of Corrections supports transformational leadership. The International Association of Chiefs of Police supports transformational leadership. So it’s something that’s slowly working its way into the criminal justice system as a different approach, a more effective approach to improve morale, but also to stop the recycling of individuals from quitting the job, to keep them on the job longer.

One of the two reasons as to why people in our profession quit, it has to do with leadership, not really the dangerousness of the job, but more so with the leadership not feeling like they’re being supported by the leadership.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Before we wrap up, are there any final thoughts that you can share with us about your book?

Dr. Michael Pittaro: No, no, this is kind of my baby. I keep referring to it as my baby. I’ve been wanting to write this for so long and so proud of how it came out, and I’m really excited about it because what I’m trying to do is just get that education out there, get that awareness out there, and to help people so that they don’t have to experience some of the challenges that I experienced, or maybe you experienced.

So this is good ways to expect some things down the road that I wasn’t expecting and how to deal with them as they surface. So I think it’s a really good book in the sense that it really does provide that real-life guidance in our profession. And I think that it’s going to do well and I know it’s going to be well received by readers. It has been well received by readers so that, I hope is going to continue.

I didn’t do it for the publicity as far as like faculty portfolio or anything of that nature. I have plenty to add to my portfolio, but this one is more personal for me because it basically takes into account everything that I’ve learned over three decades and put it directly into paper. So those 14 chapters are 30 years of experience and education. I’m really proud of the way it came out.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Excellent. You should be, that’s a fantastic book. The title of the book is “Pursuing and Navigating a Career in Criminal Justice.”

Well, I’d like to thank our guest, Dr. Michael Pittaro for sharing his book and his expertise over three decades in his career in criminal justice. Again, I recommend everyone that is either interested in the field of criminal justice, is in the criminal justice field, or has a family member or loved one that is interested, or is in the criminal justice field, to pursue this book.

So again, Dr. Pittaro, thank you. And thank you to our audience for coming along and listening to this important information. We look forward to talking to you on the next podcast.

Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Sadulski is an Associate Professor within our School of Security and Global Studies. He has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. Jarrod can be reached through his website at for more information.

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