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Temple students who want to be police officers can ‘ride along’ with university police

The offer comes as the university seeks to hire more officers amid a national shortage

Lucas Burke, 22, recently rode along with a Temple University police officer. The junior psychology major has always wanted to be a police officer.
Lucas Burke, 22, recently rode along with a Temple University police officer. The junior psychology major has always wanted to be a police officer.Read moreAlejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer

Lucas Burke has wanted to be a police officer ever since he can remember.

So during a meeting of the law enforcement and government service club on Temple University’s campus, he approached the police detective who had just spoken.

“Do you do ride-alongs?” asked the junior psychology major from Newtown.

» READ MORE: Temple police say violent crime in its patrol zone is down, while it announces next safety steps

In fact, the Temple police department just started offering such opportunities. After the meeting, Burke made a beeline to sign up.

Last month, he got his wish, spending an hour riding with an on-duty Temple officer, which further confirmed his desire to be a cop.

“Officer [Elijah] Lewis is such a great communicator,” said Burke, 22.

Temple began the ride-along program earlier this year as a way to recruit students and others interested in law enforcement. It comes as the university police department seeks to hire more officers amid a national shortage. Temple has 81 sworn officers, down 101 from last year.

» READ MORE: Temple should lead a collective effort to make North Philly safer, says long-awaited report

“It exposes our students to careers in policing and law enforcement,” said Jennifer Griffin, a former Delaware State police captain who became Temple’s vice president for public safety in August 2022. “It bridges the gap between students and our police officers.”

She said officers talk to classes, but this approach offers something different.

“We really wanted to get them into the car so they could experience what a police officer sees and does every day,” she said.

» READ MORE: The Philly Police Department is short 1,300 officers. Here’s why the situation is about to get worse.

The university had to develop a policy. Those who go must wear a bulletproof vest labeled ‘observer’ and sign a waiver. Several students have participated, Griffin said. The program also is open to non-students interested in becoming officers.

The university also is in the process of developing a program for students working toward their master’s in social work to “co-respond” to calls with police when the situation warrants it, Griffin said.

Burke’s hour with Lewis wasn’t action-packed, he said. He witnessed a couple of moving violations.

“It was good,” he said. “I got to sit with Officer Lewis and ask him a ton of questions.”

» READ MORE: More than a year after a Temple police officer was shot and killed, where does the university’s safety stand?

For Burke, public safety has been a passion. He was a volunteer firefighter in high school. He also joined the National Guard during the pandemic and is a veteran. In 2020, after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police and there was much unrest, it did not deter him.

“I might as well do it and be part of that positive change,” he said. “I don’t want to just work for a paycheck. I want to do something I believe in, something I love, something that has a positive impact.”

Griffin, who met Burke in her office, touted benefits of working for Temple: “In addition to the salary and the benefits, the 12-hour shifts, so every other weekend is a three-day weekend. ... Free tuition remission ... You can get a master’s for free ... Benefits you won’t get if go to a municipal or city” department.

Burke has his eye on federal law enforcement, though he realizes he may need to get his start in a local department.

“It would be a nice commute to work,” he told Griffin, noting he lives a block away.