Earning his Doctorate degree in Education with a concentration in Organizational Sociology from the UCF College of Education and Human Performance is one of Brevard County Sheriff’s Office Special Victims Unit Agent Jessie Holton’s most rewarding accomplishments.
Before enrolling in college, Holton conducted research within his department and found that law-enforcement agents with college degrees are on the rise.
“I noticed a college degree was becoming more accepted when I got into law enforcement, so I decided to attend college,” explained Holton. “The next generation of policing is becoming a lot smarter with a higher education. Getting my education from UCF refined everything and made me a much better person and police officer.”
He also received his bachelor and master’s degrees in criminal justice from UCF and has been assisting child-abuse victims with his 4-year-old Puggle pooch Primus, a pug-beagle mix, in his law-enforcement agency’s therapy-dog program The Qualter Project for the past two years.
Holton is a Marine Corps veteran and suffers from PTSD after serving two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Besides being his crime-fighting partner, Primus is also Holton’s personal therapy dog. He wakes him up and provides comfort whenever he’s experiencing a nightmare in the middle of the night.
He realized that therapy dogs like Primus could also make a difference with child-abuse victims. Holton started conducting research about Florida child-abuse statutes and wrote a grant proposal targeted at fighting child abuse for UCF professor Elizabeth Mustaine’s child abuse and society master’s course.
Holton found legislation permitting therapy dogs during child-abuse victim interviews, but wasn’t aware of any law-enforcement agency actually putting the law into action. Mustaine supported Holton, and had the entire class focus on drafting a grant proposal for the therapy-dog project.
After the grant proposal was created, BCSO Sheriff Wayne Ivey assisted Holton with implementing The Qualter Project therapy-dog program into the Special Victims Unit department in 2013, which is named in honor of Lieutenant Mike Qualter, who was an advocate for child victims. The therapy-dog program, a first in the U.S., puts children at ease and has seen the disclosure rate of child-abuse victims increase from 36 to 82 percent.
Holton has taken his mission further by initiating the Paws & Stripes College. The educational program provides women inmates with an opportunity to train shelter dogs in becoming child-abuse victim therapy dogs.
The Qualter Project is expanding and will be assisting law-enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. with its free training center, which is slated to open in Sept. 2015. The BCSO facility will feature kennels, 40 dogs from the Paws & Stripes College, a classroom, Eastern Florida State College’s vet-tech school, and a homey area with a kitchen, bedroom and viewing room.
Holton wanted to take his career to the next level by working towards his doctorate degree in education with a concentration in Organizational Sociology. The program provided a customized, practitioner’s degree, which helped him develop the Law Enforcement, Academic and Direct Engagement Research System (LEADERS) Initiative through his dissertation in practice. The program analyzed a problem and worked with the law-enforcement agency and others to figure out which solutions are plausible. Holton wants his project to grow beyond BCSO.
“I want to develop a full-time research and development unit,” said Holton. “I also wish to create a liaison between academia and law enforcement and then spread an idea. I would like to have multiple LEADERS Initiative sites in different cities throughout the entire country with the same work-group concept.”
UCF has made a difference with Holton’s therapy-dog program and other projects.
“The Qualter Project and other programs wouldn’t be a reality if it wasn’t for UCF,” said Holton. “Students seeking a college degree from UCF should go for it. The Marine Corps laid the foundation for my work ethic and me striving to succeed, and UCF provided the higher education tools and plan. I love UCF and it will always be a big part of my life.”