Serving and protecting

Bryson

For Jessica Starkey-Bryson, giving back to the community is her full-time job. As a police officer of the Flagstaff Police Department (FPD), Starkey-Bryson is committed to protecting and serving her fellow citizens on a day-to-day basis. She didn’t have to go far—either literally or metaphorically—to fulfill this commitment. As a Northern Arizona University alumna who graduated in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, Starkey-Bryson was able to put the skills she learned to immediate use: also important was the community-first ideal that she practiced as a student-athlete. The entire experience, she says, was crucial to her current success. 

Balancing sports and school 

Originally from the Hartford, Connecticut area, Starkey-Bryson transferred to the university after a brief stint at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. The move was a winning one on several fronts: she had extended family in the northern Arizona region, and also had ties to the university's former women’s basketball coach, who had attempted to recruit Starkey-Bryson prior to her time at Canisius.

Starkey-Bryson arrived in Flagstaff to play point guard for the women’s basketball team, and to pursue a dream of entering the military. When she suffered a back injury that ended her goal of military service, Starkey-Bryson was momentarily devastated. But she wasn’t ready to give up on her ambition of serving and protecting just yet. With the help of some strong university mentors, Starkey-Bryson channeled her efforts toward an additional objective: becoming a police officer. 

“I had always wanted to eventually go into the criminal justice field and be a police officer,” Starkey-Bryson says. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was little, so it seemed like a natural goal to pursue it after my injury.”

Learning in the field 

As she immersed herself in her criminal justice classes, Starkey-Bryson found a mentor in Neil Websdale, a professor of criminal justice and criminology. She says Websdale would draw upon real-world examples that both educated students about the ins-and-outs of life as a police officer and also kept things fun through his passion for the field.

Starkey-Bryson was able to take this real-world experience and apply it to an internship with the FPD, which she accessed through the university’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. The university’s strong relationship with the FPD offers opportunities for students to gain valuable internship experience in a variety of fields, including law enforcement, corrections, community, juvenile justice, and the courts. For Starkey-Bryson, her internship provided the perfect undergraduate learning experience.

“All the opportunities are there for you at Northern Arizona University,” Starkey-Bryson says. “Everything that you need to prepare you for real life and real experiences is there. You get to interact with different people from different walks of life, which prepares you for real life and how to handle different situations.”

As a law enforcement intern, Starkey-Bryson worked with detectives on real cases within the Flagstaff community, which included administrative work and even the occasional ride-along in a police car. She says the opportunity to closely investigate her intended career path was particularly beneficial to making an informed career choice. It also supported her long-standing goal to defend and give back to the community. 

“It really helped to have the opportunity to do the internship here, and get a taste of my chosen field,” Starkey-Bryson says. “It made me realize that this is my dream job.”

Becoming an officer

After graduation, Starkey-Bryson immediately enrolled in police academy, choosing to stay in Flagstaff because of her close-knit relationship with the community. A few months later, she was an officer on the FPD. 

Following a brief training period, Starkey-Bryson began patrolling the community, and now spends much of her time focusing on helping citizens in an area of town that remains close to her roots: Flagstaff’s Southside neighborhood, which lies between the university and the downtown area.

She greatly enjoys her job, and also likes being close to campus. Because of her familiarity with the area, and her fond memories of her time as an undergraduate, Starkey-Bryson says she feels she can give back a little more.

“I lived in that area when I was in college,” Starkey-Bryson says. “I know what it’s like on that side, and I have the experience to know what it’s like to live there. It’s not me looking at it from purely a law enforcement perspective, but from someone who is a part of the campus and Flagstaff community.”