School of Public Service and Administration

Helping others a motivating force for Criminal Justice graduate

From a young age, Dr. Jeremy Pickens knew he wanted to be in a helping profession. But would it be as a firefighter, an attorney, law enforcement or something else? While taking a not-so-direct career path, Pickens follows a guiding principle—have a servant’s heart and a giving spirit. He lives that on the job and also in the classroom where he teaches the nuts and bolts of law enforcement to others.

Q&A:

Tell me about your job.

I’m a lieutenant with the special investigations division - I’m over our street narcotics division. I’m over our canine division at the Sheriff’s Office. And then I’m over our interstate interdiction unit.

Tell me about getting your doctorate.

A kind of a backstory: Right out of high school I started at Tri-County Tech. I was one of those… I really wasn’t coming out of high school interested in college. All my friends were going, so I felt obligated to have to go somewhere, so I went to Tri-County. And I goofed off for a little while and I quit Tri-County. Later in life, of course, kids came and that kind of thing. I said, well, I need to go back to school, set the example, that kind of thing.

So I finished my degree at Tri-County and I transferred to AU. Of course at that point I was already in the criminal justice field and I wanted to kind of give myself a better opportunity for advancement. I started the AU nontraditional program, and I finished my bachelor’s. It went quick, it went smooth.

I was actually entertaining law school. I talked to my wife and she was like “sure.” I started studying for the LSAT, I took the LSAT, I applied to two schools, got in at one of them, then reality hit and my wife was like, “oh, we’ve got to move? I’m not moving.”

So it was at that point that I started my master's. My wife was like “you’ve got all of this education, you’re still a cop. What are you doing?” At that point I was like, “well, I still enjoy law enforcement, enjoy what I’m doing,”

I decided to give the adjunct thing a shot, so I applied to Tri County and AU. Initially they both told me no. Then I think they had some people back out, so they both called back at the same time and said “Hey, can you teach a class still?” So I started teaching for them in an adjunct capacity at the same time, and I really enjoyed it. So I kept teaching. I’m one of those that if I do something, I’m going to go all out, so I said “if I’m going to continue to teach, I’m going to pursue my Ph.D. So I started my Ph.D. program in 2017 at Carolina University in Winston-Salem and I finished it last year.

I’m still adjuncting for AU and Tri County. I actually just started a master’s class with AU yesterday. I teach several classes. I’m currently teaching Managing a Multicultural and Ethical Department. It’s a class within the School of Public Administration. So typically there are law enforcement executives, chiefs, captains, upper level supervision in those classes. At AU I’ve taught Criminology, also Judicial Procedures. Then I teach Introduction to Public Safety. At Tri County I’ve taught almost everything they offer in the criminal justice program. I enjoy seeing the classes because you get that human interaction. You get to see their responses to different types of things. You can’t trade that actual face-to-face interaction.

What made you choose Anderson University? 

I wasn’t a traditional student, so one of the big things for me was the flexibility of the program. It was the adult studies courses—seven, eight week courses—very flexible. Some of the other things I looked at were the professors.

A lot of mid to larger schools, even smaller schools—a lot of the professors only have the academic background. They don’t have the practical background. Almost all of the professors, if not all, at AU had actual time in the field. They were either retired or adjuncts like myself who were active in the profession who actually had the experience, so it wasn’t all academia, and having my Ph.D. naturally I don’t downplay academia, but it’s very nice and important for students to have that ability to be in contact with professors who actually have experience in what they’re teaching.

How did you become interested in law enforcement as a career?

When I was about 12 or 13 I started as a junior firefighter. I thought I was going to be a career firefighter and I pursued that. I was a volunteer within Anderson County for a while. I thought that was my career path. I was an explorer with Anderson City Fire Department and it was more downtime than I liked, so that’s when I started exploring law enforcement. I guess I was probably getting close to graduating high school when I was looking at a career change. I was still volunteering at the time and I volunteered for several years after that and I knew that wasn’t my career path, so probably high school was when I started considering a law enforcement career.

At the end of the day, what gives you the greatest satisfaction?

It sounds like a cliché, but seriously it’s being able to help people. When I was young in my career I thought it was locking folks up and how many people I could take to jail, then as my career progressed, it was that seriously knowing that you got to help somebody when they felt like you were the last resort kind of thing. So whether it’s a child in a bad situation or adults, male or female, in a bad relationship that you helped them get out of or sometimes it’s changing a tire on the side of the road for somebody that can’t do it for themselves. Whether it’s making a difference in the big scheme or not, knowing that I got to help somebody individually.

You guys see things people in the general public don’t see, some heart-wrenching things, and there’s that element of danger. How do you handle all that?

Being a Christian helps dramatically. Actually, backtracking a little bit, that was another thing that attracted me to AU, being a Christian university. That’s something I do pride myself in, because my undergrad, graduate and postgraduate degrees are all from Christian universities.

You feel like your faith is something you depend on with your job?

Absolutely. And having a good wife. I can go to her and… I probably don’t as much as I need, but when stuff is bothering me I can vent and know that it’s safe there. That’s always great.

What kind of advice would you give to someone who is interested in a law enforcement career?

You’ve got to have a servant’s heart to want to do this job. It’s not a job—you hear people say it all the time, it sounds cliché—you’re not going to get rich doing it. It’s something that you’re called to do. It’s something you want to do and it’s something you enjoy doing. I’ve had the opportunity to take different jobs to go make more money. While I’ve entertained them, I still don’t think I would have the peace and satisfaction I’d have doing what I do. That’s why I continue to do it.

I have people quite often, and actually even my job that I’m in now, they thought once I completed my Ph.D. that I was leaving as soon as I got it. Having a Ph.D. does open a lot of doors, but again, I’m passionate about what I do. Making sure they have a servant’s heart, prepare to work long hours, be prepared to miss a lot of family time. But then again I think there are those rewards on the back end that makes it worth people’s time. You’ve got to be a people person to have longevity in this job.

Generally, what else can you say about your Anderson University education?

I wasn’t a traditional student but I had the opportunity to come on campus plenty. From there to being able to teach to serving on the alumni board, Anderson University is a great place. It’s a great environment. They offer a high-quality education. I think that’s important because there are so many universities that have a reputation for just being a paper mill. That’s not what you get from Anderson University. I really value the instructors and professors who have that field experience and knowledge and willingness to pour into students, even outside of the classroom. So I think that’s very valuable to anyone seeking higher education.

dr jeremy pickens
Dr. Jeremy Pickens
Graduated from Anderson University: 2014
Degree: BS in Criminal Justice
Title: Lieutenant at Anderson County Sheriff's Office, adjunct faculty member at Anderson University School of Public Service and Administration