“I realized when I started to work in the police that we did not even learn about the basics of policing in the Academy. Every student of this Academy should spend at least a year doing elementary police work to get to know the job and issues, so they could later be a good manager.”

By: Ana Milosavljević, Saša Djordjević / Photo: Academy of Criminalistic and Police Studies

The choir of the Academy of Criminalistic and Police Studies (ACPS) performed the national anthem in early November 2018 in Sremska Kamenica since 47 graduated criminalists got a job in the police. That was the moment when the number rose to more than 500 graduates of the Academy who have started their police career in the last two years. In this way, the practice that most of the graduated criminalists, forensic scientists and IT specialists from the ACPS are left out of work after graduation – which is why they have protested in front of the Government with the message “Take the advantage of what you have already invested in” – ended. The new Law on Police smoothed the establishment of employment in the police for the graduates of the ACPS.

In the Academy, there were almost 2,500 active students according to data from 2015, while this year 300 candidates got a chance to enrol in the Academy. The main problem before was recruiting graduates from ACPS to the police, but now there are greater chances that criminalists are going to do the job which they were educated for. Yet, graduates mostly started working with only secondary, not high education, which implies several questions. What is the quality of education at the Academy? What is the cooperation with the Ministry of Interior? How the first day at work for a graduated criminalist looks like? What to change in education?

We talk about this with a graduate criminalist who was interested in a career in the police as early as she was in elementary school because she has always been a fighter for justice. That is the reason why she enrolled in the ACPS. The first day of college was not disappointing. She was where she wanted to be, she became a police officer. Recently, she started working in a police station in Serbia, along with more than 100 colleagues. The Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) decided to preserve her identity in order to avoid any kind of inconvenience at work.

BCSP: Let us start from the beginning. What are the advantages and disadvantages of studying at the ACPS?

Um. Only students who really love police work recognize the benefits of studying at the ACPS and they should be satisfied. One of the greatest flaws is very narrow specialization. There is not a big choice in employment. The ACPS students practically cannot work anywhere except in the Ministry of Interior. The diploma is not recognized internationally, so there is no possibility of working abroad. Discipline is a bit tougher than at other faculties, which can be a problem for some. It did not bother me personally. I knew where I came, and what I chose. Another issue that students face is that they cannot take exams from the current year until the previous year’s exams are all passed. Then, the so-called studying “according to Bologna’s system” is not fully implemented. Generally, aspects of the system that are more unfavourable to students are respected, while the benefits are used less.

BCSP: Is there a great number of students enrolled at the Academy? Does it need more or fewer students?

Yes, there are definitely a lot more students enrolled than necessary at the Academy. Earlier, while it was merely the Police Academy and before it had been merged with the Higher Criminalist School, it accepted only 100 students. Everyone was funded via scholarships. Thus, everyone was guaranteed a job when they graduate. It really made sense. Now, when it is accepting far more students, the quality of the studies is brought into question. By this year, it was almost “mission impossible” to get a job. Students who had been self-financing through their entire education did not have a chance to start a job last year when most of the graduate students who were financed via scholarship signed the contract with the Ministry of Interior. This puts into question the purpose of self-financing students. There are many of us. Then, why not return to the old system? Reduce the number of students; give everyone the possibility of being funded from the state budget, and later to get the employment.

BCSP: How would you assess the expertise of professors working at the ACPS and their willingness to meet the students’ needs such as their questions, requests, and pleas?

I could not generalize it since not all professors are the same. With most of the professors, it was always possible to reach an agreement. Unfortunately, there were also those who were not overly interested in cooperating with students. Fortunately, it is a smaller number.

BCSP: What was your best experience, and what was the most unpleasant experience at the ACPS?

The best experience was, definitely, field training on the Goč Mountain, which was carried out in the third year. The most unpleasant, I mostly associate with the exam that I could not pass for a longer period. Because of it, I failed a year that led to losing the right on receiving funding from the budget when I enrolled in the fourth year.

BCSP: Do you know if there were any cases of corruption at the ACPS? Does it happen that students are “buying” exams at this faculty, too?

Unfortunately, there were cases. Nevertheless, this is not a rule it is an exception. One of the professors was reported and people “from the top” have dealt with it. I am not sure whether there is some special mechanism, but for now, it is enough that some kind of investigation is carried out for each reported case. It does not go by unpunished if it turns out that the allegations are correct. However, students do not want to “get involved” with it too much.

BCSP: Do you think that you had enough practice at the Academy for the job you are doing now? Can you describe practical work you had at the ACPS and some of your experiences (both positive and negative)?

Not even close to enough. Practice at the Academy was in the form of two weeks spent as interns at district police administrations in the second year. There was much more theory. Only when I started to work I realized that we did not even get to know the basics of police work during the internship. Instead of the theoretical lessons that we could also follow at the Academy, it would have been much more useful if we monitored the work of sector police officers or the duty service during those days. If only we had accompanied at least one officer, any type of intervention or work on the field, a conversation with a party, or anything similar.

BCSP: Does that mean that students of the Academy do not get sufficient knowledge at the ACPS about police management, or is it a result of poor practical work?

No, no, that is not what I said. On the contrary. Everybody, regardless of professional qualifications, should start from a lower scale in order to better understand the issues of the lower set of jobs that we will later manage. This experience cannot be replaced by any internship, let alone theory.

BCSP: Then, how to improve the quality of studies at the ACPS?

Only with better cooperation with the Ministry of Interior.

BCSP: What is needed to improve cooperation between the Ministry of Interior and the Academy of Criminalistic and Police Studies? What should both of them do, in your opinion?

It is necessary that the Ministry and the Academy communicate more, and to involve the Student Parliament. Annually, the Ministry should make a cross-section and declare the level of demand for managerial staff. That way the ACPS would accept approximately as many students as needed. In addition, the Ministry should introduce the ACPS to the current issues in order to direct the ACPS’ studies in that direction. Since the Academy became independent from the University of Belgrade, it should fight for bringing back students’ benefits that the University previously provided – e.g. affordable cafeteria meals. It may sound insignificant, but for students, besides accommodation, it is one of the main items for easier life during their studies.

BCSP: Has your opinion on the ACPS changed towards the end of the studies?

Yes, it has changed. I was disappointed with the fact that the Academy’s cooperation with the Ministry is not at an enviable level. Formalities are always there, but given the fact that the ACPS is part of the Ministry, that cooperation should be felt much more.

BCSP: How long have you been waiting for a job after graduation? How did the recruitment process go?

I have been waiting for one year since graduating from undergraduate studies. Nevertheless, I did not even feel “the wait” since I immediately started with master studies after graduation. I was fortunate that last year the Ministry decided to hear the pleas from students that were sent on several occasions, so many ACPS students got a job that year.

BCSP: How did the recruitment process go? How long did it last?

There is no special process. A police administration asks you to deliver the necessary documentation. In the meantime, a security check is carried out and a medical check-up afterwards. If everything is fine, the rescript distribution follows. The process is, therefore, similar to the ACPS entry. There is no exact time period because we are not all called the same day. Moreover, hiring itself is carried out in stages. I personally waited for about five months from the moment I was called until signing the rescript.

BCSP: Did it bother you being employed as having only secondary education while you have earned a Master degree?

Honestly, I did not mind. First, I was overwhelmed by the fact that I started working at all. Second, and most important, I think that every student of the Academy should spend at least a year of basic police work in order to get to know the job and problems, so they could later be a good manager. I absolutely stand behind my words when I say that the ACPS students who have worked as police officers with secondary education, at least for a while, will perform their jobs better when they are in managerial positions.

BCSP: Could you describe your first day at work? The first meeting with your mentor? How did you feel?

I was petrified in a way. Many new people, an unknown environment. At the station where I work, there is no classic mentor for trainees, so I was practically a police officer like everyone else. The sector leader, also the ACPS colleague, two years older than me, has helped me a lot. I could actually consider him as kind of my mentor. He worked hard to explain the most important things to me, and he was always glad to answer all my questions. From this perspective, when I think about it, it is precisely because of him that I have quickly got into the essence of the job.

BCSP: Why was there no classic mentor for trainees in your station? Are there cases where police trainees do not have a mentor at all?

I do not know why there is such a policy in my station. I only know that some Police departments have classical mentors who work with trainees throughout the whole internship, while others do not. I do not see it as a deficiency. All of us students managed well, with or without a mentor. Simply, you just watch and learn, then try it yourself and that is it. It is a lot more important that your colleagues want to help you and be there for you than having a mentor.

BCSP: Are there any differences in colleagues’ behaviour towards new employees in relation to gender – male or female? Whom are they more dedicated to – men or women?

I could not fully answer this question. In my case, everyone behaved correctly. There may be a slight difference in colleagues’ behaviour towards female colleagues, but this is not because of gender, but rather those female colleagues often wrongly set themselves up from the beginning. I have sorted some things out at the very beginning, and now I really do not have any problems.

BCSP: How would you assess the commitment of your colleagues to studies then, and to work now?

There are always exceptions. However, when it comes to working, I really have only words of praise for those ACPS graduates I am currently working with.

BCSP: Now, when you look back, would you enrol in the ACPS again? Would you advise future generations to study at the Academy? Why?

I love this job. It is not even close to what I thought it was while I was studying – it is much more stressful and hard, but it is my life calling. Yes, I would enrol again, no matter what. However, I do not advise future generations to enrol in the ACPS if they do not truly love the police calling to the extent that they will endure all the disappointments and difficult challenges that this faculty and later work are carrying with them.

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