Law enforcement background benefits Ashleigh Wojslawowicz’s doctoral research
Charleston Southern University’s trifecta alumnus, Ashleigh Newell Wojslawowicz ’10, ’13, ’21, is living her life’s purpose in God’s perfect plan.
Currently a Master Crime Scene Investigator, Wojslawowicz, 33, holds the highest tier level of certification by the International Association of Identification as a Certified Senior Crime Scene Analyst. She recently shared her research at the annual American Society for Evidence-Based Policing conference in Washington D.C., and the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Dallas, Texas.
Her panel presentation on “Solving the Recruiting Crisis,” included reframing the current recruitment crisis, evaluating the impacts of negative media on law enforcement recruiting efforts, and solving the hiring crisis by finding what works through internal research. The international conference provided Wojslawowicz a place for her research and dissertation to fit into a group of people passionate about policing and research.
The standing-room only presentation highlighted the need for such research. “We have all seen what continues to be put out in the media and the topic of law enforcement actions and behaviors is not something that is going away, and the way we see law enforcement in the community has changed, for example we see police utilizing various social media accounts such as TikTok and Instagram,” said Wojslawowicz.
She confesses to a little bit of fangirling over the people at the conference who had just been names in her research before. “To be able to network and meet people that have done a lot more than I have and for them to be so excited about it, and then come up to you later and say I would love to implement this at my agency can we partner and do this, or let me connect you with this person over here because they need to hear this too, and to be welcomed into that circle was a big deal for me,” said Wojslawowicz.
Wojslawowicz earned her Doctor of Education in leadership at CSU with the first cohort which graduated in December 2021. Her dissertation, “Recruiting Amidst Crisis: Exploring Police Recruit Motivations in a Post-Ferguson Era,” has opened a broader world for her. She is the principal researcher and lead consultant for The Stono Group, LLC. She is a subject matter expert for the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training where she provides training for domestic and international first responders on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State, and she is affiliated with The Justice Clearinghouse, and is an adjunct professor for Truett McConnell University in Georgia.
The public’s response to law enforcement action and behaviors as viewed through media platforms can be a challenge difficult to address. “Reporting their [law enforcement’s] behavior has been under a microscope in recent years and is not going away, but the environment has shifted, and is continuing to change, all because there is now a commitment to doing better, and you have more people on board because they recognize how badly this is needed,” said Wojslawowicz.
She said, “The degree met me at a time in my life where everything lined up; there was no question that this was God ordained and I was meant to be here. I had every confidence that this was the direction my life was supposed to go.”
She had been studying verses in the Bible that point out that God will not fail, and He has a plan for each person. “There are needs in other people’s lives that only you can fill, so you have a unique purpose,” she said. “The moment I realized that there was this need in the world, and I was uniquely designed for it was one of the most exciting moments of realization that I’ve had.”
Wojslawowicz had to write a paper during her doctoral work about having an Ah-Ha moment, the moment you realize the connection between what you have been learning and your purpose. She said, “For me it was realizing that I come from a unique background for someone that is in research. I can draw from perspectives that other people can’t because I’ve lived it, so that’s when I realized that is what I have to do. You need someone like me that will tell you how a survey instrument is giving you data.”
She clarifies the need to trust in God’s plan does not always mean it is what one wants. Her dissertation was not the topic she originally wanted to research. “It is typical with the dissertation process that you start at one point and end up at a different subject, but I knew I wanted to focus on law enforcement,” Wojslawowicz said.
She explains where the ideas began. “There have been several events within this post-Ferguson era, where law enforcement response and accountability have evolved,” said Wojslawowicz. “In Charleston we had a peaceful protest that turned violent in 2020, and my agency was involved with that response. Personally knowing the people who were responding to and processing the crime scene in the days after, it was a very personal connection.” She said her fellow law enforcement officers were similarly impacted, as she observed the physical and mental exhaustion and stress experienced by the officers following the event.
She said many individuals choose the law enforcement profession to protect and serve; however, following several highly publicized mistakes made by a small number of officers in recent years, a narrative began to circulate throughout the police community regarding perceptions of anger and distrust by citizens. Now, not only are officers dealing with the literal consequences of bad decisions made by a select few, but also the intangible mental effects from a socio-psychological standpoint. “I was in the middle of this complex and dynamic moment, and searching for what can I do to help, so that is where my dissertation topic of looking at recruitment motivation in a post-Ferguson era came from,” said Wojslawowicz.
What she observed firsthand was the organizational struggles for recruitment and retention of nationwide law enforcement. Retention data is not typically shared outside of a law enforcement organization, so she had to switch topics in order to have access to the needed information. Having access to those who are getting into the profession from connections at police academies and understanding why they want to enter the profession despite everything going on in the news, was possible.
She started there. What she learned was the negative media and its impact on the perception of danger in the job and on officer motivation weren’t a big enough impact to keep recruits from joining law enforcement within her sample.
Wojslawowicz said, “You are not going to solve the world’s problems with your dissertation; it is just your first step to learn how to do research, and understand the limitations of the data.”
When she was younger, Wojslawowicz thought she knew exactly what the future held. She said, “I grew up in a conservative Christian home. I was homeschooled through high school. CSU was my first big social not-at-home experience, so I was very sheltered. I had a plan that I would be married by 21, have three children by 30 and be a private investigator. Yet I’m 33 now with no children and I got married to my husband later in life than I thought I would, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I wouldn’t be married to any other person; he is my person, my soulmate, God knew what He was doing.”
She describes herself as being at home in an academic environment. She knew she wanted to obtain another degree. She said, “I had stayed connected so I heard through the grapevine that CSU was going to do this program. I knew that God was telling me it was time to go; I didn’t second guess it.”
When she told her husband he gave her his full support saying, “Absolutely, you are going to do it.” She said the support of your partner makes a difference. Her undergraduate mentor, Dr. Jacqueline Fish, was a motivator also. Wojslawowicz met her during her undergrad studies. “She was teaching Techniques of Criminal Investigations, which is basically like a Crime Scene 101 class,” she said. “It was an elective for criminal justice students. When I met her, I thought I want to be just like her when I grow up, what she is doing is what I want to do.
“Dr. Fish has a doctorate in education as well, so with her background along with a master’s degree and undergrad in the criminal justice field and then switching to education intrigued me because I wanted to make sure my academic career was diverse,” said Wojslawowicz. “I have the field experience of forensics and criminal justice, so I know how the police department works.” She also holds the practical side of research. She said, “PhD programs are heavily theoretical with an emphasis on conducting the research, the theoretical frameworks, and testing the hypothesis, which is still something we do in a doctorate in education, however the emphasis always remains theoretical, which is not easily digestible for the typical law enforcement practitioner.”
Wojslawowicz explains what is needed in today’s world. “It is being able to understand how to do the research but then interpret, present, and communicate it with those who can then take that information and apply it practically,” she said. “That is where the gap lies, and that is where I feel that I could be the greatest of use. I understand that world; I’ve lived it for a decade, and now I have the academic training to do the type of research they need.”
She said, “I feel that I am able to meet that gap and help fill it in with whoever I am partnering with because one of the things I heard over and over at the conference in D.C. was when the researchers were presenting, they were talking about the lengths they went to understand what it is like to be an officer, the ride-alongs they did, who they met with, asking the different questions to understand the culture, and I don’t have to do that because I come from that, so that was a reassurance for me that I am in the right place because there is a need for me.”
Wojslawowicz is facing the future with confidence. “Now I’m doing so much more, I have no idea where I might end up, but trust in Him along the way because He knows what’s best. Where I am finding purpose and fulfillment is in being able to help others, after a decade of forensic work, here I am, doing analysis, but what I am researching is more than just crime scenes, it’s more than just going to a burglary or working a homicide. And all that is very important, and I’ve done that, but now, I have shifted to a bigger scope, my framework has become larger, and I am looking more long-term for organizations and agencies,” she said.
Trusting Christ’s guidance and what He has ordained for her life sustains Wojslawowicz. She doesn’t define success by what she can accomplish but by moving forward in what God has called her to do. “I am merely the vessel for His plan to be accomplished,” said Wojslawowicz. “When I look back five or 10 years from now, I hope that I have continued to follow that progression of trust and reliance on Him and His progression.”
Catalina Duran Ballen is a junior communication studies major at Charleston Southern University and is an intern in the Marketing & Communication office.