Joshua Donnelly sat in a classroom seat not too long ago. He received his Ph.D. in criminal justice from UNLV in the summer of 2022. Now, for the second consecutive year, he is standing in the front of the class teaching Police in America, a hot-button topic Donnelly researched throughout his graduate studies at UNLV.
“You have people who love the police,” Donnelly said. “And you have people who hate the police. But I want you to love them or hate them for the right reasons — to really be informed with what policing is all about.”
Donnelly’s course covers the evolution of policing and how the new model of policing focuses on community connections, collaboration, problem solving, and crime prevention. He modified the course, Police in America (CRJ 211), to incorporate problem-based learning approach which closely aligns with his teaching philosophy.
What is the course about?
Beginning with the modernization of police in the early 1800s to the community-oriented model used today, Donnelly takes students through policing’s history covering topics such as agency development, policy changes, and new technologies used in policing.
Students will also leave this course with a greater capacity to hold police accountable, Donnelly said. Students will analyze dynamic policing issues and develop ways to move forward in identifying the proper role police should play in the community.
Who’s teaching it?
Joshua Donnelly is a visiting assistant professor in the department of criminal justice with expertise in crime science and policing. During his graduate studies at UNLV, Donnelly was the research director of the Tourism Safety and Crowd Science Lab. He worked with agencies such as the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and Henderson Police Department on research grants and community partnerships.
Who’s taking it?
Seats fill up quickly in this criminal justice undergraduate course. Students interested in varying fields will find it useful for their career since policing is essential to society. The content equips students with critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are beneficial to any student no matter their field of study. Donnelly said the course is also helpful for students interested in the legal field, corrections, and law enforcement.
If you are a criminal justice undergraduate student who already has taken CRJ 104, add this class to your next schedule. There are only 45 seats available for Policing in America, and it is offered every semester including summer term.
How does it work?
The course is offered both online and in-person. Donnelly described that although he tries to give students the same experience in both class structures, there are small differences. For students taking the course online, lecture-heavy content is presented through video and PowerPoints while in-person classes offers more opportunities for student engagement through discussion.
“I like to hear what my students are thinking — what they’re valuing — and have them work in groups,” Donnelly said.
In both online and in-person formats, a new topic is covered every week and throughout the semester students work on a capstone project.
The reading list
Donnelly chose Police in America, Challenges and Best Practices by Kenneth Peak and William Sousa. Sousa is Donnelly's mentor and a fellow UNLV criminal justice professor. Donnelly believes, “It talks about a lot of permeating topics and presents information in a digestible manner.”
What excites Donnelly about this course.
“I am excited about this course because it enlightens students on what the role of police really is, which is often surprising to many,” Donnelly said. He also looks forward to having guest speakers. The relationships he formed while working with local law enforcement has proved beneficial. Their stories offer the varying perspectives of practitioners, community advocates, and police.
Where do students go next?
If you cannot get enough of learning about policing, Donnelly teaches a few more classes on the topic. You can go more in depth with effective ways to problem solve and the importance of diversity in policing in Community Policing and Problem Solving (CRJ 313) or learn how to effectively eradicate crime in Crime Prevention (CRJ 490).