Called To Serve

Jordan Werk loved reading Nancy Drew mystery novels as a young girl. She was drawn to the various Law & Order series on television. Few things captured her attention as fully as those stories connected to criminal justice and law enforcement.

“I am one of the lucky people,” she says. “I knew early on this is what I was supposed to do.”

Today Werk is one of three school resource officers in the Moorhead School District. Her primary responsibilities are at Horizon Middle School, where she teaches DARE and serves as a liaison between the police department and the school district.

“We show kids that we’re not there to arrest people, but to keep people and the community safe,” she says. “We’re making connections and building relationships.”

Before becoming a law enforcement officer, Werk attended Minnesota State University Moorhead, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and  completed two internships in law enforcement and restorative justice. Those experiences secured her belief that she belonged in the field.

“I was always interested in trends and how we can prevent crime,” she says. “And I knew I didn’t want to be behind a desk. I wanted to be out in the community.”

About a quarter of MSUM students who study criminal justice become certified as peace officers in Minnesota after completing a law enforcement skills course, says Geraldine Hendrix-Sloan, a professor in MSUM’s sociology and criminal justice department. Other graduates secure jobs in a variety of related fields: courts, corrections, probation, parole, and victim advocacy.

In addition to an undergraduate degree in criminal justice, MSUM will begin offering a master’s program in criminal justice in spring 2023. The program will allow students and professionals to broaden their opportunities – some agencies grant automatic promotions or increased salaries with additional education.

The customized one-year program also will encourage those in the field to conduct original research that could improve agencies.

“We’ll guide students on how to conduct research that could be grant funded,” says Joel Powell, coordinator of the graduate program. “We want them to be able to assess and evaluate their programs and others. We want them to approach criminal justice research with a critical eye.”

Werk has been an officer with the Moorhead Police Department since 2016. She loves the work because she sees it as a calling to help people. Especially in her role as a school resource officer, she seeks ways to understand and address the root causes of misbehavior instead of looking for ways to punish those who act out.

“I’m always asking, is there something that would help? What’s causing the behavior? It’s like a puzzle,” she says. “You never see the same thing twice.”

As an officer, Werk says she needs to be able to multitask and think quickly. Some of those skills are refined on the job – experience is a valuable teacher. But Werk also applies the lessons and theories she studied in her sociology and criminal justice courses. It helps her think more deeply about human behavior.

Werk stands out because she is calm, conscientious, and has a love of service, says Hendrix-Sloan. Her experience is particularly valuable because women represent less than 16% of all sworn officers.

“(Werk) is to be commended on her ability to balance her service for her community with her role as a mom and peace officer,” Hendrix-Sloan says.

Some research suggests that women bring a different skillset to law enforcement – a stronger ability to focus on communication and de-escalation of conflict, Hendrix-Sloan says.

Werk says that as a female officer and a mother of four young children, she can connect better with some people. For example, a female victim of domestic assault may only want to talk to another female. At times, Werk may see a situation differently than her male colleagues.

“In law enforcement, we need people who bring a variety of ideas and experiences to the table,” Werk says. “That’s what makes us all more effective.”

The role of law enforcement is complex and challenging. Typically, officers interact with people who are having one of the worst days of their lives.

In Werk’s role as a school resource officer, she gets to see middle school students and staff on their good days, too.

“That’s important,” she says. “This is truly a calling.”

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