Schooling New York City’s Cops

Tim Viltz, an NYPD Officer On Scholarship at Hunter College (Azure Gilman/New York City Lens)

Tim Viltz, an NYPD officer on scholarship at Hunter College (Azure Gilman/New York City Lens)

Tim Viltz is 37 years old and a ten-year veteran of the NYPD. Articulate and approachable, he worked as a beat cop for six years in the 50th Precinct in the Bronx before working in the crime analysis unit for another four. But he always knew he wanted to go back to school.

“For me, grad school had always been part of the plan. I worked really hard to complete my undergrad degree,” said Viltz. “But I always intended to go back at some point when I could afford it.”

And he can afford it, thanks to a little known scholarship program offered by his employer—the NYPD. Viltz had already taken a few units at Hunter College in Manhattan when he applied to the Urban Affairs masters program. After he was accepted, he successfully applied for the NYPD’s scholarship. Now he is a full time student, and expects to finish his degree at the end of the summer.

Scholarship applications from cops go through the NYPD Scholarship Unit. That unit that works with several different schools, but will only allow for certain courses of study: urban affairs and law is in; medieval French literature is out. While they go to school, the selected officers don’t have to work, but continue to receive their base salary. They pay their tuition out of their own pocket, but there are occasionally additional grants, depending on the school. Viltz’s Hunter College tuition will total slightly more than $16,000.

The 2013 New York Police Department Scholarship Guide lists 29 total scholarship recipients, out of a force that hovers around 34,500 officers. Other schools and programs affiliated with the program include the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, St. John’s University School of Law, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy, along with many others.

The NYPD did not return requests for comment, but by all accounts the program is very selective. Professor Stanley Moses at Hunter said that the competition for the scholarship is high, and choosier than normal admission. “The goal of it is the notion that with a Masters degree they’re primed and prepared for upward mobility in the department when they return,” said Moses. “They come back, and they have greater understanding of how they fulfill their roles, and a broader sense than just being cops on the beat.”

It wasn’t until he was a student at Hunter that Viltz met Aman Sandhu, a fellow NYPD scholar in the Urban Affairs program. Sandhu previously served in the 19th Precinct, the Bronx, and PSA8. The department, he said, wants officers who see a bigger picture. “They want you to understand the bigger world,” said Sandhu.

Getting a scholarship means that an officer must stay in the NYPD for two years after they graduate, sometimes longer, depending on the program. Both Viltz and Sandhu plan to complete 20 years or more before they retire.

Viltz is required to write a thesis, or “capstone project,” for his program. He’s still not sure what it will be, but he thinks it will probably have something to do with tracking fatal police-related incidents nationwide for 2014.

One of his professors, Thomas Angotti, said that being in school offers police officers a new perspective on the work that they do. “I think they’re aware of the issues and controversies about policing. And they’re also sensitive to the constraints that the police officers face in their day-to-day jobs. This is one thing that hopefully education does—they don’t always put it in context, and understand it in a wider political economic context.”

Both Viltz and Sandhu say that there are no promises from the NYPD as to where they will be placed after graduation. When officers get back from the program, they are reassigned based on the needs of the NYPD. Viltz has used some of his time to learn about mapping technology, and hopes to work for the Office of Management Analysis and Planning—a unit that works with data to develop crime-fighting strategies.

Professor Jill Gross, one of Sandhu’s teachers at Hunter, has noticed an uptick in police officers coming into the classroom—not just scholarship winners. “They may try and get these scholarships later on if they can, but I’m finding we’re getting a consistent flow of police officers that are personally interested in self development and academic growth.”