Underscores Significance of Growing Criminal Justice Field
As a federal law enforcement officer for the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for 30 years, Marie Palladini saw
the field of criminal justice change drastically. Yet, perhaps the
biggest change took place over the past five years with the
establishment of the Department of Homeland Security and the
escalation of identity theft. Today, in a field that is seeing more
growth than at any point in her entire decorated career, the newest
member of the public administration faculty is able to bring her
vast real-world experience to prepare students to head off into the
Palladini says criminal justice has never been static – there’s always been something new to learn and implement. Yet, 9/11 truly changed everything. “After 9/11, we had a whole new level of security that we didn’t have before and a huge new agency in the Department of Homeland Security. Together with the rise in identity theft, it has meant that criminal justice as a field is growing exponentially. It’s growing a lot more now than in any other time in my entire career,” says Palladini.
That career began in 1976 when she was hired by USFWS as a criminal investigator. She spent years in the field based in Torrance, investigating violations of federal wildlife laws such as poachers who crossed state boundaries or attempted to ship their wares through the ports of Los Angeles. After receiving her juris doctorate in 1984 and a brief stint as an attorney, she returned to USFWS, where she began to teach at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) and moved into a management role.
The mentoring and teaching were watershed moments. It showed her that her true calling might not lie in the field, but instead, in the classroom. Looking for other such opportunities, she was one of three officers in the country who implemented a national field officer training program and she continued to seek out opportunities to teach at the FLETC, where all federal investigators outside of the FBI and CIA go for eight weeks of schooling before heading into the field. Now two months into her new full-time teaching career, she finds that her 30 years in the field is proving incredibly valuable in bringing concepts and laws to life for students.
“Criminal justice can have lots of memorization with rules and laws, but I can bring real-life experiences that help make things applicable. I think that is critical because I want my students to learn, not just memorize a rule and forget it,” says Palladini.
One day, it might be an anecdote from her time in the field such as when she helped catch some smugglers attempting to traffic large quantities of African elephant ivory through the ports to bring a concept to life. Or, she might pull from the headlines from notable courtroom trials such as the recent Spector case to bring a point home. Always, it’s finding a way to relate that real-world application to the coursework.
As Dean Jim Strong explains, he was impressed by Palladini’s combination of proven teaching ability that came enveloped by so much experience in the field. “It’s great to find a candidate like her because she has shown she can teach, but she also has that experience from which to draw. In a field like criminal justice, which continues to grow each and every day, that’s a great combination for our students,” he says.
Underscoring Palladini’s comments on the burgeoning field, Strong agrees that preparing qualified students for careers in the field couldn’t come at a better time. “You’d be hard-pressed to open a newspaper today and not see headlines about more responsibilities for Homeland Security. The field is growing at such a rate, it’s almost hard to keep up,” says Strong. “So to prepare students for those careers, it’s not only helping students get a solid education, it’s also helping our communities, state, and country as a whole.”
Of course, relying on her past experience has not only helped her students, it has helped Palladini adjust to her new role. “I’m very busy building new lesson plans and preparing discussions and lectures, so it certainly has made the job a lot easier to have these experiences from which to pull,” she says.
Outside of work, Palladini is a self-described “soccer mom” who spends most of her weekends traveling to support her youngest of two daughters on the soccer field year-round. Still, she works out almost every morning and has found time to volunteer on a regular basis with her daughters at Precious Life Shelter, a Los Alamitos shelter for homeless mothers, and Orange Wood, an abuse shelter for children. Downplaying the volunteerism, she says it’s more selfish than anything else, because it has allowed her to bond with her daughters.
While teaching is certainly not bonding, it’s that same idea of working helping a younger generation grow that she enjoys most about her new role. “It might seem hokey, but I love being around young people who are passionate and excited,” she says. “And it’s certainly a nice change to be interacting with people in a positive way rather than arresting them and putting them in handcuffs.”
Have a question or comment?
E-mail the editor.