From 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Erica Lumpkin’s schedule is like that of any other student: class, recitation, lab and then homework. But when the clock strikes 3 p.m., she swaps her backpack and civilian clothes for a badge and a blue uniform bearing the words “Georgetown University Department of Public Safety.”
Lumpkin is one of six DPS officers currently enrolled in a degree-granting program via a contract benefit that grants Georgetown employees free tuition at local universities. As a member of Georgetown’s post-baccalaureate program, Lumpkin has had to juggle her pre-med coursework with a full-time job as a DPS officer.
“It’s been a slow journey,” she said. “One of the great things in my department is they are really flexible in terms of scheduling our shifts around school. … Even though we have a commitment to the community, we have a commitment to ourselves as well, and the department really honors that.”
DPS Chief of Police Jay Gruber said the offer of free tuition is a significant component of what draws many officers to the Hilltop.
“It is a big recruitment tool that we have here,” he said. “A college education here costs a lot of money, so many officers forsake a traditional university [experience] to get access to this opportunity.”
Unlike other institutions, Georgetown offers its educational benefits in terms of credit hours instead of a flat monetary amount. According to the university’s website, 120 total credit hours are allotted to Georgetown staff employees, the only stipulation being that one year of service must be completed prior to receiving eligibility.
This benefit is what led Andrew Powell, assistant director of DPS and a law student at American University, to work at Georgetown. After completing his degree, he plans on joining his wife in York, Pa., where he will take the bar examination and begin his law career.
“There are a handful of officers here who are very upfront about wanting to complete their degree, obtain their degree or get their masters, myself included. The first day I walked in the door, I knew I wanted to get some sort of degree and then move on,” Powell said.
Patrol Officer Eric Vilhelmsen, the son of a former DPS officer who is pursuing a paralegal certificate at Georgetown, said that the program can be a boon to DPS’ recruitment efforts.
“It seems to me that officers actually tend to stay here a little longer if they have school,” he said. “When you hire somebody, you never know how long they are going to stay. But if you’re hiring somebody for education, there’s a pretty good bet they’ll stay here for a few years.”
In the meantime, DPS officers enrolled in university courses must balance the standard college student set of obligations with life on the police force.
“It’s hard,” Vilhelmsen said. “The first thing to go is sleep. Today, I got a solid five hours. I had class from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. and then work from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.”
Interacting with students while in the classroom and on duty poses its own set of challenges. For the 28-year-old Lumpkin and other officers in her position, it is important to keep the job and their personal lives separate.
“It’s kind of weird to be in class with a bunch of undergrads in plain clothes and then get into uniform and take on the role [of] an officer. … I’m certainly older than your average undergrad,” she said.
Nonetheless, Lumpkin and her classmates share more than just coursework.
“I still find it’s easy to relate to students,” she said.
Lumpkin is no stranger to balancing work and education. Having graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 2007 while serving as an officer there, she has never experienced college life without the added responsibilities of working in law enforcement, and the two parts of her life frequently collide.
“Students will come to me and they are like, “Oh my gosh, I know this is kind of weird, but are you a DPS officer?” she said.
Lumpkin added that her Georgetown classes help her to better relate to students while on the job, alleviating the often tense relationship between undergraduates and DPS officers.
“There is this perception that at DPS we are aggressive party busters,” Lumpkin said. “When the general community here at Georgetown sees us operating in our normal lives, it helps them to relate to us better.”
Powell agreed that studying among Georgetown students can create a beneficial link for DPS officers who take classes on the Hilltop.
“I have an appreciation of what the students are going through,” he said. “Having been a student myself, I know the pressures and the thinking. … When I was an officer — and now, too — I was able to see things from a student perspective.”
But Lumpkin also emphasized that there is still a code of conduct that cannot be broken.
“You have to operate in an unbiased way, period,” she said. “When you put on a uniform, you have to get into that mindset that you are going to help a community in whatever way you can and you have to do so in a fair way.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Erica Lumpkin carried a gun. DPS officers do not carry guns. The corrected version was posted 12:45 p.m. Nov. 2.