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SUNY Potsdam’s Criminal Justice Program Places High in New Ranking

January 29, 2021

Human Connection and Applied Learning Emphasized in University Headquarters Ranking of SUNY Potsdam Criminal Justice Studies Program 

Davanté Parker, left, a SUNY Potsdam alumnus who graduated from the criminal justice program in 2017, works with a New York State trooper during a training session through SUNY Potsdam’s Law Enforcement Training Institute.

SUNY Potsdam’s criminal justice program competes with the top in the nation, in a new rankings report released recently by University Headquarters, an online clearinghouse for information on higher education opportunities around the country.  

Placed at No. 28, SUNY Potsdam was well-situated in the ranking based on the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice’s strength in being “incredibly supportive” of students and applied learning opportunities, according to the report “40 Best Criminal Justice Schools and Universities in the U.S.”  

“We take a generalist approach, allowing our students to examine criminal justice topics from a variety of perspectives,” said department chair Dr. David Bugg. “This allows our graduates the opportunity to choose any number of career paths—whether it be law enforcement, corrections, probation and parole, law school, victim services, crime analysis, or other paths such as loss prevention and private investigation.” 

SUNY Potsdam's Criminal Justice Studies program offers an interdisciplinary approach to the social, political, legal and economic environments that shape the criminal justice system. Courses cover a range of disciplines, including sociology, political science, psychology, chemistry, anthropology, community health and literature. The department also partners to offer the Law Enforcement Training Institute— the only SUNY liberal arts college program authorized to teach pre-employment police basic training, where graduates meet the requirements to be immediately hired by a law enforcement agency. The institute is a joint venture between the department, SUNY Potsdam University Police and the Lougheed Center for Applied Learning. 

“We work to build a future generation of professionals who will seek to improve the system by addressing current problems,” Bugg said. 

As the need for a humanistic approach to policing continues to hold the national spotlight, Potsdam’s Law Enforcement Training Institute retains its focus on human connections in police work. That’s been a key philosophy of institute director Sonny Duquette, a former North Country detective who spent 22 years on the beat and another nine years directing police academy training.  

Nathaniel Yeager '20, a double major in criminal justice and sociology, center, looks to Sonny Duquette, the director for SUNY Potsdam's Law Enforcement Training Institute, during a training session with StressVests in 2019. The Law Enforcement Training Institute is the first New York State police training academy to start using the StressVests, designed to improve tactical firearm force-on-force training.

“I always push my officers to humanize themselves, because that’s what the public wants to see,” Duquette said. “People may understandably have an issue with someone who has that much power over their freedom, but they’ll tolerate it if they see that officer is a decent, mature professional trying to do the right thing.” 

The institute works closely with a wide range of agencies, from University Police to the Potsdam Police Department and county and federal law enforcement. Officers interact directly with small groups of cadets, bringing real-world perspectives to training. 

“They enjoy passing knowledge on to the next generation,” Duquette said. “It’s a feel-good moment and we look for those, because they are so rare in this line of work.” 

From the use of stress simulation vests to a variety of defensive scenarios and martial arts, the institute works to equip officers with a substantial number of tactical tools, reinforcing their confidence so they can perform one of their most important functions, staying calm under pressure. That’s integral to an officer’s highest calling, the forging of human connections and fostering public trust in the work of law enforcement. It requires humility and listening, Duquette said. 

“I really focus on taking care of the public, being decent and being there for them,” he said. “Verbal de-escalation tactics, verbal judo. People want to be heard. Let them speak; let them be heard, as long as everyone is safe.” 

The College’s applied learning associated with criminal justice includes internships, service-learning with substance abuse programs and correctional institutions, and study abroad programs like student trips to Cambodia to examine human trafficking and Great Britain to examine the criminal justice system. The sociology and criminal justice discipline pairs well with majors or minors in anthropology, chemistry, political science, homeland security, community health, human services, pre-law, environmental studies and communications, further increasing the competitiveness of graduates. 

About SUNY Potsdam: Founded in 1816, The State University of New York at Potsdam is one of America’s first 50 colleges—and the oldest institution within SUNY. Now in its third century, SUNY Potsdam is distinguished by a legacy of pioneering programs and educational excellence. The College currently enrolls approximately 3,600 undergraduate and graduate students. Home to the world-renowned Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam is known for its challenging liberal arts and sciences core, distinction in teacher training and culture of creativity. To learn more, visit

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