For over two decades, Lt. Edward Restrepo has moved up the ranks within the Gwinnett County Police Department in the Atlanta area. But his career success hasn't held him back from being a college graduate – and even pursuing graduate school. The 42-year-old has just wrapped up his third degree from Saint Leo University and aspires to one day teach at the institution that has meant so much to him. 

A native of New Jersey, the longtime law enforcement professional now resides in Jefferson, Ga. He completed his AA in criminal justice in 2014 and followed that up with a bachelor's in criminal justice with a concentration in homeland security. And he didn't stop there, having finished his master's in criminal justice this past academic year.

His Path to Saint Leo

While on the road, he essentialy stumbled upon one of Saint Leo's Education Centers that he has now called home for the past several years.

"Saint Leo has its Gwinnett Education Center in the jurisdiction where I work," he says. "One day, I saw it when I was driving by, so I went online and researched it."

The fact that the university offers practitioner-based programs is what really drew him in to eventually enroll.

"Since I had already worked in law enforcement for some time, I thought it was a good fit. The faculty consisted of current and former police captains, majors, prosecutors and judges. I also liked the flexibility of the programs and the fact that they'd be willing to work with me and give me a little extension on certain assignments if I would need it. I found some other schools to be very rigid and not as understanding toward students who are working."

Attending the Gwinnett Education Center

While Restrepo took some classes at Saint Leo's Marietta Education Center, it was the Gwinnett location where he did most of his coursework.

"I really enjoyed the classes and discussions there, so much so that I'd love to be able to teach for Saint Leo," he says. "They saw me come in with a high school diploma, and now they're seeing me graduate with my master's."

In terms of faculty, a few of those who made a positive impact on him include Dr. Phillip Neely, Dr. Robert Sullivan and Dr. Forrest Beach.

In addition to his regular coursework, he participated in the university's Learning at Sea cruise course in the Caribbean and traveled to Israel for the school's annual summer trip to study counterterrorism methods.

Because of his positive experience with the university, he says he's referred over a dozen individuals to Saint Leo.

"I will actually walk them through the Gwinnett Education Center and introduce them to the staff there," he explains. "I really believe in what they do and what they offer."

A Career of Serving the Community

It was how Restrepo's mother handled being a single parent that inspired her son to want to serve others as an adult.

"My mom was a single mother, and it was a big inspiration to see the sacrifices she had to make," he says. "Because of this, I knew I wanted to be a cop some day and make my own sacrifices."

In 1997, he graduated from the police academy and started in the field as a patrol officer. He later moved into a training position teaching new recruits before becoming an investigator of gangs, homicides, robberies and other serious crimes. He has since gone on to win awards and honors for his work and is now a lieutenant.

His current role has involved police and security work at Infinite Energy Arena, a 13,000-seat facility in Duluth, Ga. Thanks to his class trip to Israel, he's been able to apply what he learned over there to his job.

"I've been able to incorporate what I saw into how things are run at this arena, such as metal-detecting strategies, where vehicles are allowed to park and other aspects of protecting this arena."

Having attained a higher education in criminal justice has been a big boon for him, he adds.

"My degrees have absolutely helped me move up the ranks in my department," he says. "I have become much more marketable within the agency through this education."

Throughout his varied career, he has been involved in a number of cases that have really stood out for him. A pair of unrelated cases involved the senseless murders of two local teenagers.

"These two boys, Tre Shambry and Paul sampleton, were killed in the area unnecessarily. They were both aspiring athletes and very well-liked in the community. One was shot by someone being careless with a handgun, and the other was executed in a brutal home invasion. Both cases involved about a year of investigative work. We had nothing at first and had to build up both cases. It was so rewarding to help orchestrate and bring closure to these cases. I still am in touch with the two families."

What's Next?

With his sights set on earning a doctoral degree, he says he'd love to teach – or at least do some formal mentoring of the younger officers in his police department.

"At some point, I think I'll be looking for that transition that we all seem to look for when we reach a certain level in our careers. I'm so passionate about teaching. I'd love to start a formal mentorship program or teach criminal justice at the college level. Overall, I would say I just want to help those getting into this profession improve themselves and their skills."

Photo credit: The photograph of Edward Restrepo included in this blog article is used with permission.