Tuesday – April 24, 2018

Varied Experiences Enrich Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement Instructor Rick Cole's Teaching

November 2011

 MATC prides itself on hiring instructors with real world experience in their fields. Like the vast majority 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, MATC associate dean of Protective Services, said that one of the reasons he hired Cole was "his ability to view the criminal justice system through the multiple perspectives of a police officer, a prosecutor and a defense attorney. The diversity of his background was appealing. He doesn't approach a problem with only one mindset."

Cole earned a bachelor's degree in social welfare/criminal justice from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1992 and went on to attend MATC's Law Enforcement Recruit Academy. "That's where I learned the 'nuts and bolts, hands-on' work involved in law enforcement," Cole said. After his graduation in 1994, he accepted a position as a Kenosha County deputy sheriff.

When the Marquette University Law School began accepting part-time students in 1997, Cole decided to continue his education. 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 said. "I enjoy new challenges."


Rick Cole

Cole joined the Kenosha Country District Attorney's Office as an assistant DA in 2003, trying felony, misdemeanor and juvenile delinquency cases. Part of his job included sending follow-up requests to police investigators and preparing search warrants. 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.


Cole teaches in the Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement Associate Degree Program
and is coordinator of MATC's Law Enforcement Recruit Academy.

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. "You learn to tell when people are actively engaged and 'getting it' and when they are 'tuning out.'" Similar presentation skills also are necessary to explain difficult concepts by breaking them down into smaller bits of information, he said.

In 2007, he left the DA's office to try his hand as a criminal defense attorney. Cole said defense work taught him how he could be a more effective prosecutor. "If you understand where the defense is coming from and understand how people react under stress, it makes it easier to explain how things happen," he said. He also said that being a lawyer also made him more protective of suspects' rights.

"I learned so much about investigating cases from criminal defense work," he said. "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. "The negative mark doesn't have to follow them throughout their rest of their lives."

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

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. In August 2011, he also 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."

The Law Enforcement Recruit Academy provides 520 hours of state-mandated training required for certification through the State of Wisconsin Law Enforcement Standards Board. Milwaukee and Madison city police departments and some state law enforcement agencies have their own service academies. Individuals interested in serving in other Wisconsin municipalities must get training at a Wisconsin technical college recruit academy. MATC's academy also provides a certification track for the college's associate degree program students.

Combining all his experiences helps him with his teaching, Cole said. "I believe I add a different piece to the puzzle. My goal is to provide a good bedrock of education for people pursuing a career in law enforcement."

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

For more information see MATC's Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement associate degree program.



In addition to teaching, Cole has a background as a sheriff's deputy, a prosecutor and a defense attorney.