Law enforcement academy coordinator has come full circle

Photo of Rick Cole

Rick Cole

Milwaukee Area Technical College

Law Enforcement Recruit Academy Coordinator

Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement

Like most of his colleagues who teach in the Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement associate degree program, Rick Cole has worked as a police officer. What makes him distinct is that he also holds a law degree and has served as an assistant district attorney and a criminal defense attorney.

Vince Vitale, Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) associate dean of Protective Services, praised Cole for his ability to view the criminal justice system through the multiple perspectives of a police officer, a prosecutor and a defense attorney. "He doesn't approach a problem with only one mindset," Vitale observed.

Cole earned a bachelor's degree in social welfare/criminal justice from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and went on to attend MATC's Law Enforcement Recruit Academy. After graduating he accepted a position as a Kenosha County deputy sheriff.

Cole attended Marquette University Law School as a part-time student. He juggled law school with his full-time sheriff job, graduating in 4-1/2 years. Cole was one of the few students who interned in both the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office.

"I wasn't sure what I'd do with my law school training when I began, but I saw it as a chance to build my skill sets and improve my analytical thinking," Cole recalled.

He joined the Kenosha Country District Attorney's Office as an assistant DA in 2003, trying felony, misdemeanor and juvenile delinquency cases. His familiarity with police work helped with that aspect of the job. "I was a trained investigator, so I know how it should be done correctly," he said.

Communicating with Students and Juries Utilize Same Skills
Teaching interested Cole, so he accepted a part-time position as a law enforcement instructor at Gateway Technical College in 2006, while continuing as an assistant district attorney. He sees many similarities between teaching and communicating with a jury.

Next he decided to try his hand as a criminal defense attorney. Cole said defense work taught him how he could be a more effective prosecutor.

"I learned so much about investigating cases from criminal defense work," he stated. "Police officers need to really know the rules and procedures because they are going to have to testify in court later. If you don't know the rules, sometimes someone gets a pass when they shouldn't have. I try to apply everything I learned to my teaching."

Working in the juvenile justice system was the most rewarding part of being a lawyer for Cole. "If you reach people who are getting in trouble when they're young and get them the treatment and supervision, you have a chance to change the trajectory of their lives," he said.

Leading Recruit Academy Brings Cole "Full Circle"
Cole feels that teaching students new skills gives him that same chance to help people grow and change the path of their lives. He accepted a full-time teaching position in MATC's Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement associate degree program 2010, where he teaches constitutional law, criminal evidence, criminal law and juvenile law. Then he became the coordinator of MATC's Law Enforcement Recruit Academy.

"I've come full circle," Cole said. "As a grad of the recruit school here, I'm very invested in making it the best it can be. I get an opportunity to really make it shine."

Cole truly enjoys teaching and working for MATC. "There are so many fantastic opportunities and programs for people to get new skills sets here," he said. "The sky's the limit. If someone comes and puts in the effort, they can gain so much from an MATC education."

October 30, 2012