How do you influence needed change?

One person at a time.

That’s what inspired Tidewater Community College Professor Antonio Passaro, Ph.D., to suggest improvements to the Criminal Justice programs in Virginia’s Community Colleges, following the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020.

“That incident sparked a passion in me to do something to change the curriculum. We’re training women and men for every police department in the Commonwealth and we have a civic and moral responsibility to reimagine how we train officers of the future,” Passaro said.

TCC Criminal Justice students with Professor Antonio Passaro.
Passaro with Criminal Justice students before the start of the pandemic.

As department chair of TCC’s Criminal Justice program with more than 16 years in law enforcement, Passaro was invited to participate in the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) Law Enforcement Review Panel that launched in June 2020.

“As we were looking at things happening around our nation, it was clear that the communities we serve had a broken relationship with law enforcement, and we could do something to change that,” he said.

Passaro’s idea included a three-prong approach that included adding two required, three-credit courses to the curriculum – one in Community Policing and the other a Multicultural class. He also suggested a universal name change to Criminal Justice for all related programs in the VCCS.

Passaro was named chair of the VCCS Law Enforcement Curriculum Committee in Jan 2021 and worked with colleagues to develop the new courses.

“Community policing is an art. The idea is to get more police officers out of their patrol cars and involved in the community. Having conversations with citizens. Showing it’s not us against them, but a united effort. Making way to better community engagement and transparency,” he said.

In addition, according to Passaro, the Multicultural class is designed to engage students in a way that sparks “compassionate curiosity about the lived experiences and perspectives of other people.”

“Every student in our programs will have increased cultural competency. We have to ensure we are doing the right thing by all people,” Passaro said. “Police need to treat every citizen with dignity and respect and citizens have to respect law enforcement officers.”

Passaro is now co-chair of the Criminal Justice Community Partnership (CJCP), launched in June 2021 by the VCCS.

The CJCP is bringing together community organizations, criminal justice training academies, law enforcement leaders, and Criminal Justice faculty to engage in meaningful conversations focused on the identification and examination of emerging trends, best practices and opportunities.

In addition, the CJCP is taking the final steps before the new courses and name change will be adopted by the VCCS. The group is collecting input from college advisory boards and committees. They are also ironing out the logistics of how the new courses will fit into certificate and degree programs.

The group hopes to have the changes in place by Fall Semester 2022.

“Moving forward we’re making sure the students who complete the Criminal Justice program have extra tools in the toolbox and are well equipped to protect and serve their communities,” Passaro said.  “I’m very proud of the work we’ve done together to impact change in virtually every city in Virginia.”