Officers of the Puyallup Police Department share many traits: commitment to the community, a sense of family and solidarity within the department and a certain pride in their work.
Pierce College is yet another commonality among many PPD officers. Several started their higher education journey at Pierce and cite their experiences there as instrumental in helping to shape their choice in careers. Patrol officer Chad Pearson is one such alumnus. He began attending classes at the Fort Steilacoom campus in 2003. Of all his classes at Pierce, Pearson says his favorite was psychology. He doesn’t recall the name of the professor — what impacted him instead was the material.
His continued interest in psychology drives the career choices he makes today: Pearson recently became certified as a crisis intervention specialist with the National Association of Anger Management. Pearson says crisis intervention is both the most rewarding and challenging aspect of his job.
“Dealing with people in crisis is difficult because you don’t know what to expect,” says Pearson. “If you can try and understand where they are coming from, then it helps you respond a little bit differently.”
Pearson admits it was sometimes a struggle to juggle the conflicting demands of classes, full-time employment and a growing family. Having the option to sometimes take only one class per quarter and return to his studies at leisure allowed him the flexibility to complete his transfer degree at his own pace.
Pearson is a first-generation college graduate. Rather than seeing that as a challenge, he used it as a motivating factor in earning a master’s degree, which he accomplished in 2015.
For Corrections Lieutenant Ed Shannon, a 35-year veteran of the PPD, Pierce College offered the same flexibility. Just as importantly, he was offered exposure to classes and topics that he may otherwise never have pursued.
“I took an introductory music class. To this day, I can listen to some classical music and know the period of the composer,” says Shannon.
He remembers listening to a famous composer rehearse in Benaroya Hall in Seattle, which is an experience he says he would have missed had he not had the opportunity to enroll in that class.
Shannon was a student at Pierce College before there was an official campus in Puyallup. He recalled taking evening classes in a stripmall in the ‘80s. Shannon eventually transferred to Southern Illinois University, which had a branch at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The university worked in conjunction with Work Force Education and Development, which is a program Shannon encourages any Pierce student to explore for the support services it offers.
Regarding his role at the PPD, Shannon also encourages pursuit of corrections as a career that is rich in both rewards and benefits. He said he enjoys good pay, excellent retirement and received tuition reimbursement for his college courses.
Patrol Sergeant Tamera Pihl, who has been with the PPD for 22 years, is enthusiastic for both the profession and her Pierce College education.
Pihl attended Pierce from 1991-93. She earned a degree in Law and Justice via the Central Washington University extension housed on the Fort Steilacoom campus.
One of the most influential professors Pihl said she learned from was a Pierce county prosecutor named Hugh Birgenheier. She cited his mentorship as the first among many of the benefits provided to her by the college.
“Pierce set the foundation and work ethic [for me] to be successful,” Pihl said.
Community Outreach Officer Jeff Bennet also recalled his Pierce College experience as impactful, though for different reasons. Bennet, who has been a member of the PPD for 14 years, said he was not a great math student. He took a statistics class and learned more about math there than he had in his five prior years of high school and college.
Bennet first attended Pierce College Fort Steilacoom in 1991. He returned to Pierce in 1998 to finish his associate degree after deciding on a career in law enforcement.
He said jokingly that it took him eight years to finish a two-year degree, but he acknowledges that many students need that time to sort out what they want to do in life. He views Pierce as a vital part of the community.
“It’s five times bigger now than it was when I was there. It’s cool that we have that [as a] community learning center.”
Community is a large part of what keeps Bennet engaged in his career. His current role with the PPD developed over the years
because of his work with the increasing number of homeless. Bennet acts as a liaison between homeless people and the services they may need in order to get out of the often cyclical nature of homelessness. He sums up his job as one that provides equal parts giving and receiving.
No matter their current role within the PPD, these Pierce College alumni share more than just their former alma mater. Each has demonstrated a commitment to bettering their community.
Community is the driving force for a lot of the officers, and this includes Officer Bennet. “You do get a lot of benefit by giving. There is not a person in this building I believe isn’t an integral part of giving back to this community.”
This article originally appeared in Pierce College Puyallup’s student newspaper, The Puyallup Post.
Reprinted, with permission, from the Pierce College website.