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Phoenix Forward

Dean James Ness offers a world of law enforcement experience to criminal justice students

Dean James Ness

For James Ness, PhD, dean of the University of Phoenix College of Criminal Justice and Security, a career that began as a small-town cop took anything but a predictable path. After rising to chief of police, Ness became a professor and then accepted law enforcement and training missions overseas in strife-torn countries.

“Things definitely got a little exciting in Bosnia,” Ness recalls. “You’d be sitting having lunch someplace, and somebody would drive by in a vehicle and they’d fire off a whole magazine from an AK-47, which is very intimidating. But they were just trying to scare you.”

In those days, Ness was on special assignment for the U.S. Department of State as station chief for the International Police Task Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He worked there two years, upholding the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the civil war in Bosnia in 1995.

The previous year, Ness served as dean of academics for the Haitian National Police, working for the U.S. Department of Justice, where he was in charge of training Haitian cops. That was the year of the U.S. military occupation of Haiti.

I could see that as a police officer, you didn’t get anywhere unless you had an education.

Ness accepted the overseas assignments after a career that started with his childhood dream of becoming a cop. After high school in Wisconsin, Ness joined the U.S. Air Force, serving in a police air unit for six years before becoming a police officer in his home state for two years.

Next, he worked his way up from lieutenant to police chief in Illinois, and earned a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern Illinois University.

“I could see that as a police officer, you didn’t get anywhere unless you had an education,” Ness recalls. “So I always returned to my education, again and again.”

After two years as chief, Ness accepted a position teaching law enforcement at Southern Illinois University, where he served as a professor for six years and earned his doctorate in education.

Eager to run an academic department, Ness took a job at Barton Community College in Great Bend, Kan., where, as director of criminal justice, he spearheaded programs that trained police officers throughout the state of Kansas.

All of his experience ultimately led to his overseas work. It was an exciting time, Ness says, and some of the best parts were the furloughs he and his wife took to London, Vienna and Paris. “We spent the millennium New Year’s Eve in Paris,” he remembers.

His stint overseas ended during a Justice Department assignment in Kosovo. He fell, injuring his knee, which forced his return to the United States in 2000. He and his wife Ellyn settled in Phoenix, where he began channeling his experience into teaching in the criminal justice program at the University of Phoenix Main Campus. In 2010, he became founding dean for the College of Criminal Justice and Security.

Ness is grateful for his diverse career.

“Sometimes I look back and say, ‘Hey, I’m just a poor kid from Wisconsin,’” Ness says. “I really do feel fortunate to have had so many positive opportunities during my lifetime.”