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How the Kroc School Propelled My Law Enforcement Career

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

San Diego PolicecarChristina Burhans, '14 (MA)
begin quoteThe perspective I gained through the MAPJ program has helped me grow as a professional of peace, and it’s one I believe other law enforcement officers and peacebuilders would benefit from as well.

In 2014, I was the first police officer to graduate with a MA in Peace and Justice (MAPJ) from the Kroc School. At the time, I had 17 years in law enforcement working as a police detective in City Heights. In those years, I’d conducted countless interviews with victims and witnesses, and gathered critical evidence to support the cases in which I was involved.

Through my years of service, I noticed an important opportunity to improve our community, and over time I knew that in order to make the most of it, I would need to learn even more about peace and justice – my day to day fieldwork could only teach me so much. Ultimately, that’s what led me to the Kroc School.

The perspective I gained through the MAPJ program has helped me grow as a professional of peace, and it’s one I believe other law enforcement officers and peacebuilders would benefit from as well.  

How the MAPJ Program Enhanced My Understanding of Police-Community Relations

In 2012, the Mid-City community of City Heights of San Diego had become a hub for thousands of refugees from East Africa due to political and religious violence, as well as famine and economic disaster.

Having worked as a patrol officer and police detective in this community, I recognized the challenges refugees faced in their new home of San Diego were significant and largely due to language and cultural barriers as well as an unfamiliarity with the laws and customs of the city in which they lived.

Through my role as an investigator, it also became apparent that settling large refugee populations presented challenges—not only for their host city, but also for the police officers who were seen as the first line of defense in protecting communities against crime. The more time I spent in that community, the more I recognized there was often a lack of understanding between the refugee and police officer groups.

Shortly thereafter, I enrolled in the MAPJ program because I wanted to learn about the struggles refugees face for the purpose of identifying how police could better serve these communities. The MAPJ program particularly interested me because it was multidisciplinary, encompassing peace education and research, and was committed to a scholar-practitioner model aimed at action research. Given the program’s core curriculum of conflict analysis, prevention and resolution, development and conflict, human rights and research methodologies, I felt this would be a great academic program for a police practitioner like me.

A Peacebuilder’s Lens: the Opportunity I See for Law Enforcement

Among much else, the Kroc School’s MAPJ program provides students with the tools to understand the causes and effects of both direct (personal) and indirect (structural) violence. It also educates them about the conditions that promote both positive and negative peace.

For those unfamiliar with the terms “positive peace” and “negative peace”, a comparison to health sciences is helpful to illustrate the difference. Health can be seen as having two sides: the absence of disease is the negative peace; the prevention of disease is the positive peace.

Just as doctors diagnose and treat medical elements, they also offer guidance to their patients to prevent disease. They’re able to make recommendations which help to keep patients healthy, not only help when they’re unwell.

Similarly, our police officers work to protect communities against violence when it occurs, but more that, they attempt to prevent problems before they happen. Just as physicians are trained to diagnose a patient before initiating medical treatment, police must become more adept at properly diagnosing a criminal problem before enforcement or effective prevention measures can be implemented. If the police were to look at violence as a health problem, they would have to diagnose crime and treat violence, and have to learn what factors protect people, and what factors may put them at risk for experiencing or perpetrating violence for the purpose of identifying where prevention efforts need to be focused.

Whether you’re a physician treating a disease or a law enforcement officer combating violence, the best way to diagnose, treat and prevent these “ailments” is by conducting research. Doctors educate medical students at teaching hospitals, partner with scientists and other healthcare professionals and the public, and much more. Meanwhile, police educate recruits in the academy and work with new officers in the field, and they work with criminalists and other law enforcement professionals regarding their cases. Their work is primarily centered on dealing with crime, specifically the detection and investigation of crime, and the apprehension of the offender—not prevention.

However, unlike the medical field, police officers are not currently doing enough in the way of prevention-related research. Currently, police are “feet on the street” within the communities they serve. They are the first to intervene when acts of direct violence occur. Generally, the police intervention involves the arrest and, ultimately, the prosecution of the offender. In other words, they treat the symptom (a cough), but they don’t address the underlying root of the cause (heavy smoking).

Although the arrest and prosecution may be effective in the short term for reducing violence in that given area, it often does little to address the root problem, and thus, violence persists. That’s because some violence stems from indirect, structural violence where. That one arrest typically doesn’t prevent others from occurring.

Just as the immune system is the body’s way of fighting off infection and disease, a community’s ability to bounce back from a disaster demonstrates an ability to immediately identify a threat, draw resources to stop the threat and repair any damage caused, while simultaneouslyalso maintaining care in the community. A resilient community is a community with a healthy immune system. So, the big question is, how can the police strengthen a vulnerable society’s immune system?

Proposing a Solution: Peace Researchers Partnering with Law Enforcement

By providing high quality academic research, peace researchers could help our police officers with this endeavor and, along the way, develop new lines of teaching and research on the challenges police face in addressing violence at the negative peace level (restorative and rehabilitative practices) and at the positive peace level (resiliency and prevention).

Similar to a doctor educating their patients about how to stay healthy and keep their immune system strong, peace researchers could help inform what would be needed to keep a community’s immune system healthy by gathering data about what makes the community “sick”, resorting to violence. Just as doctors have to treat patients who are sick, peace researchers could help devise a prescription for peace (economic development, respect for human rights, etc.), while also devising a treatment plan in the event violence arises (humanitarian actions and restorative justice practices). Just as there isn’t one treatment plan that will fit all illnesses, peace may require a combination of traditional and non-traditional (holistic) approaches to achieve.

Ideally, the mission of our police should center on prevention, and for that reason, I believe more effort should be spent on preventing violence before it occurs, and developing measures to prevent any further violent activity from occurring. After all, prevention is the best cure.

Since graduating, I have been seeking more opportunities to apply my peacebuilding lens and identifying opportunities, big and small, to incorporate a positive peace approach to law enforcement and the community I serve. As a result of the perspective, skills and knowledge I gained during my time at the Kroc School, I have been promoted, and am now working with the San Diego District Attorney’s Office as a Supervising Investigator, assigned to the Child Abduction Unit. My primary responsibilities involve locating and recovering children who have been taken or are being kept in violation of a custody order. This includes children in San Diego, across the U.S. and in foreign countries.

Whether you’re a current or aspiring law enforcement officer, or a peacebuilder, I encourage you to consider the MA in Peace and Justice program. It has helped me make strides in my profession, see solutions that others don’t see as readily (or at all), and start to end cycles of violence through small, incremental steps.


Christina Burhans was born and raised in San Diego, California.  She has over twenty years of law enforcement experience in San Diego County.  Christina began her law enforcement career with the San Diego Police Department where she worked for 19 years. Her previous assignments included field training, community relations, juvenile, investigations, and a two year detail with the FBI. Christina is currently a Supervising Investigator with the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, working in the Child Abduction Unit.

Christina received her B.A. degree in Global Studies with a minor in Arabic history and culture from National University and a M.A. in Peace and Justice Studies from the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego. Additionally, she is a California Peace Officer Standards and Training Master Instructor with a specialization in the area of Intelligence-led Policing, is certified as a Terrorism and Homeland Security Specialist through California Emergency Management, and has attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

In addition to her professional and academic background, Christina’s research interests lie in exploring the role of the police practitioner in peace building. She has authored numerous articles for a local newspaper, providing the Muslim community a forum to ask questions or simply offer suggestions to law enforcement. She is an advisory board member for the College of Letter and Sciences at National University and has spoken to community groups, law enforcement, military personnel and educational institutions about how to increase public awareness about security and terrorism.

Want to develop your peacebuilding lens to shape a better world? Learn more about the Kroc Shool’s MA in Peace and Justice.


Kevin Dobyns
(619) 260-7618

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies


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