Most people are inundated by the demands of only one job. But Jeff Brinkley, associate teaching professor of criminal justice studies, excels at two ambitious careers simultaneously.
Since 2012, Brinkley has taught Police and Society (CJ ST 351) to scores of students, both in the classroom and online, for Iowa State’s Department of Sociology. He recently co-developed a new class, Contemporary Issues in Policing (CJ ST 451X), which will launch next fall. They are both classes he’s well-qualified to lead since he also is the chief of police for the Mason City police department, a post he’s held since 2016.
Destined for law enforcement
Brinkley has been involved with all levels of law enforcement since he was a senior at Hampton-Dumont High School. He credits a week-long opportunity at the American Legion’s Boys State the summer after his junior year of high school as the catalyst for his law enforcement career. There, he was selected to be a major in the Boys State Patrol, where he shared one-on-one conversations with Iowa State troopers and enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at Iowa’s Division of Criminal Investigation lab.
“It was that summer that set things in stone for me. I knew policing was what I wanted to do,” Brinkley said.
He wasted no time exploring law enforcement opportunities. As a senior in high school, Brinkley dispatched for the Hampton police department and the Franklin County Sheriff’s office. Following high school, he attended Hawkeye Community College in Cedar Falls, and later transferred to the University of Northern Iowa, where he also dispatched for the Cedar Falls police department part-time.
Brinkley felt unsettled in college, though, so he accepted a public safety position with UNI while attending the law enforcement academy. Following graduation from the academy in 1996, he began working for the Ames Police Department as a patrol office.
Finishing his education
While policing in Ames, Brinkley enrolled at Iowa State and obtained a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies in 2000, and a master’s degree in public administration in 2011. Just a year later, he began teaching criminal justice courses at his alma mater. With a desire to be closer to family, though, Brinkley left Ames in 2016 to become chief of police in Mason City. The foundation of his success? Dedication and hard work.
“Day in, day out, hard work. No doubt. And people skills, though I didn’t have them when I started,” Brinkley said. “You’ve got to be flexible in this job. You’ve got to be coachable. You have to take criticism. Some of that I didn’t learn until later in my career.”
As chief of police, Brinkley relishes the opportunity to help others advance in their law enforcement careers.
“It’s a chance to pay forward what so many have done for me,” he said. “I had a lot of officers and troopers that took me on ride-alongs, showed me the ropes and developed my interests. Teaching here at Iowa State is a great example of that.”
Shaping students’ careers
As an associate teaching professor, Brinkley has the unique opportunity to help mold future law enforcement professionals, from police officers, to social workers, to jailers. It’s a privilege he takes seriously. For example, in the new CJ ST 451X course, Brinkley is incorporating the Intercultural Diversity Inventory, which assesses cultural competency.
“The idea is that we’re going to produce a more socially diverse, culturally competent police officer candidate who may not make some of the mistakes that police officers have made through the years because of their increased levels of emotional intelligence and cultural competency,” he said.
Brinkley often engages students in his classes to think about various police and societal issues. He shares decisions he’s made in the line of duty and asks students what they would have done in similar situations.
“They can ask me anything. You open up the floor and there are really good conversations,” he said. “I think everybody, including me, walks out of the room having learned something.”
Emma Etler, a sophomore in criminal justice studies, took CJ ST 351 with Brinkley. She said having a police officer as a professor was impactful.
“It is very interesting to take a criminal justice class from an actual police officer. You get to hear different things that you would never have heard from someone who wasn’t a police officer,” Etler said. “You also know that what you are learning is correct. I feel like I can trust the information more because he is a police officer with years of experience.”
Paying it forward
Positively impacting people is Brinkley’s focus in both his law enforcement and teaching careers.
“My goal is always to try and leave a place a little better than I found it, so I hope that is what comes out of those conversations with students,” he said. “I want to let them know that I may wear a badge and uniform to work but I’m still a human, and that’s what matters. How do we make things better?”