September 21, 2023

Police chief using her degree, classwork to change city

Angela SpatesAfter more than 20 years in law enforcement, two degrees and two children, Angela Spates became the first female police chief of Lanett, Ala., in February 2012.

“I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have this job without my degrees from Columbia Southern University,” she said.

Spates graduated summa cum laude with her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration in May 2010 from CSU.

However, Spates originally tried another degree program at a different online school, but had a bad experience with it.

“It almost kept me from going back (to school) at all. I wasn’t happy,” she explained.

Spates learned about CSU via its Learning Partnership program with the Lanett Police Department. She was attracted to the school’s flexible, online environment.

“I don’t have time to go sit in class. I like getting on and doing what I’ve got to do. I can access it anywhere. It’s a lot easier for the grown-up world,” she said.

Going back to school is something Spates always wanted to do. “I had been trying to get a degree for as long as I can remember, and CSU made that come true. My husband and kids were thrilled when I was done.”

She decided to continue her education, and began pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice in 2010. This would play a key role in her future.

“By having my master’s degree, it has enabled me to be in the position I’m in right now. They do look at the work history,” Spates said, adding that cities have become more particular about their police chiefs having a master’s degree. She graduated with her master’s in late 2011.

In fact, she has been able to use the skills and information she gained from the CSU classes in her current position as police chief.

“I took a budgeting class and had never done that. As part of being police chief, the budget also is involved. It enabled me to better understand, learning how to work with people and promote the department in the community,” Spates said.

Part of her goal is to incorporate more of the things she learned in classes into her work and foster more community interaction.

“I’ve been trying to get the community involved in the police department. I do want a certain amount of safety for the people that live there. When you get to the point you don’t want to come out of your house because you are afraid, that’s not a good way to live. I want a certain amount of harmony among the department and the community,” she said.

Spates said that the only way to achieve this is to work together and use the information she has learned to help her figure it out.

“They have to trust the department. It has dwindled through the years, but I want to bring it all back together. To be able to have a community where they know who the police officers are and there is trust,” she said.

While this position and the challenges are new to her, working in law enforcement has been something Spates has done for years. She started as a patrol officer in 1991 in Valley, Ala., a sister city to Lanett. In 1998, Spates began working in Lanett as a patrol officer and soon moved to criminal investigations.

In 2009, she began attending CSU and graduated from the National Forensic Academy she attended on a scholarship. Spates said she plans on applying to the FBI academy someday.

In March 2011, she was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant and continued work in criminal investigations. After her predecessor resigned, Spates was voted in as police chief in February 2012.

“I have truly been blessed to have the opportunity. I kept waiting for a big wave to come over me for a huge change. But the transition has been easier than I thought it could be. I have been enjoying (the position). I love it,” Spates said.