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Phoenix Forward magazine

Chief Mark Henderson was destined for law enforcement, but his education shaped his career

Police Chief Mark Henderson

Forget those gritty crime dramas on TV: The job of a suburban police chief isn’t usually like that. But it’s not necessarily “Mayberry” either.

For Mark Henderson, it’s academic. Literally. In fact, now that he has a master’s in administration of justice and security from University of Phoenix, the chief of police of Brighton, New York, makes sure he can dedicate time to teach a criminal justice course each semester at the local community college.

The idea that he could be hurt in the line of duty never enters the conversation when Henderson speaks of his nearly 30-year career as a leader within law enforcement. He’d rather talk about community engagement, transparency within his office and doing more despite dwindling budgets. Occasionally, he says, people he arrested as a beat cop have come by to thank him for helping change their lives.

And, it turns out, he likes to share his knowledge and experience with others interested in law enforcement. “I like the academic path,” he says, adding that he wouldn’t rule out teaching full time. “I firmly believe it’s because of my education that I’m where I’m at today.”

Just as he was ready to start school, Henderson was offered his dream job — what he calls a “perfect storm.

Law enforcement has been the Henderson family business for three generations. When he was younger, Henderson says he wasn’t that interested in school — or good grades. He did enough to get by, took the civil service exam and joined the police force.

His interest in education was “reignited,” he says, 20 years after completing his bachelor’s degree when he attended the FBI National Academy in 2005. A captain by then, with two decades on the Brighton police force, he enjoyed the executive training program — and wanted more.

But, being a family man, he realized his two daughters would soon be attending college. “The idea of going back to school seemed pretty far-fetched after all those years,” he remembers thinking. “In addition to the cost, my college options were limited here in upstate New York.”

Things changed in 2010 when he applied for, and was awarded, a full scholarship to the College of Criminal Justice and Security by the FBI National Academy Associates (FBINAA).

“But I still worried about the time commitment,” Henderson notes, “especially in light of what was going on at work.” In what he calls a “perfect storm,” Brighton’s police chief had announced his retirement, and Henderson found himself competing for his dream job just days after enrolling in the master’s program.

“Of course I mentioned to the interview panel that I was pursuing my master’s degree,” Henderson says. “I had the career experience — from beat patrol on up. But when the board heard that I was committed to my education, I know that gave me an advantage.”

Today, a University of Phoenix diploma hangs prominently in Henderson’s office. “I’m proud of my accomplishment,” he says, adding, “My degree program helped me view things with a fresh perspective.”

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