Chicago Police Department Lt. Raymond Cowin has carried a lot of different titles over his career, having worked his way up from patrol officer all the way to lieutenant. He also holds another position that's of great value, though in quite a different way: that of college instructor. With a career spanning more than 36 years in law enforcement, Cowin enjoys sharing his real-life experiences teaching AIU Online's criminal justice courses.
"What I like best is I can give students an honest perspective on what they can expect if they go into the criminal justice field. I can tell them what really happens, not what it says in a textbook. I love that," he says.
When he was younger, Cowin had his eyes set on a different field—a baseball field, to be exact. However, an injury changed his career path. At the same time, he was taking a criminal justice course as an elective. One assignment was to ride along with cops and write a report about it. After that experience, he was hooked. "I rode with them and thought, 'This is fantastic. They give you a set of keys, a car with a full tank of gas, and you get to drive around. That day, the cops arrested a couple of people... and I thought, 'I can do this.'"
He left school to join the Hoffman Estates, Ill., Police Department in 1978, where he started as a patrol officer. Across the next three and a half decades, Cowin served on three different departments and climbed up the ranks to eventually be a lieutenant with the Chicago Police Department. It was in 1991 after his appointment to sergeant with the Chicago P.D., however, that he decided to finish his education. "If I wanted to go higher in the police department, I had to have a bachelor's degree."
Cowin attended Western Illinois University through a government state program that allowed adults to take classes at their own speed. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in liberal arts in 2000.
With ample experience and knowledge under his belt, Cowin's resume expanded in 2005 to include the title of president/owner of Odin Personal Safety Consulting, Inc., a company he still runs today while continuing his work on the force. Drawn to public speaking, Cowin provides seminars on burglary prevention, building and public safety, active shooter situations, and how to handle yourself in crises. As if two roles weren't enough, that year, Cowin took on a third and became a student again.
"I was starting to plan for my eventual retirement and I knew I wanted to teach at the college level, and to teach at that level, you need a master's degree." So he attended an online university and got his Master of Science in Criminal Justice. "I can't believe how much I learned doing that," Cowin says. In fact, he recommends that students pursue graduate degrees whenever they can. "Education truly is power. People who have the opportunity to go on [to their master's degree] should. It will never hurt you, only help you. ... It demonstrates a commitment."
With his master's degree in hand, Cowin jumped right into teaching criminal justice courses. "I love helping students who are serious about getting in the field," he says. For those looking to become police officers, Cowin shares two pieces of advice: First, "Be prepared for your life to change. It's not like it is on TV. You are going to experience things that may cost you some of your friends. You family will be affected because of the hours. ... The job is 24/7 and holidays." Second, "Have a solid support system of people to rely on. ... You are going to see bad things that affect your mentality, and you'll need your support system when that happens."
However, despite the long hours and the challenging experiences, Cowin says it is worth it. "When you help someone who needs help, the look of gratitude on their face is so fulfilling." For example, Cowin helped solve a murder in the 1980s, and the murderer was sentenced to 65 years in prison. For two decades, the family of the victim sent Cowin a Christmas card to express their thanks.
"I've had a very blessed career when I look back," Cowin said. "It is one of the most rewarding jobs you can imagine."
Lt. Cowin is the lieutenant for the 19th district at Addison and Halsted in Chicago near Wrigley Field. In his extensive career, he has met former U.S. Presidents George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, as well as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former President Vicente Fox of Mexico.
Learn more about AIU's Criminal Justice degree program.