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AU News

From the London Metropolitan Police to Anderson University: Meet Professor Kevin Woolner

July 7, 2021
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Professor Kevin Woolner is taking the lessons learned walking the beat in the United Kingdom to School of Public Service and Administration classrooms.

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Kevin Woolner adds an international perspective to courses he teaches at the Anderson University School of Public Service and Administration.

Woolner, who spent three decades as a police officer in one of the world’s largest cities, instructs on topics ranging from an introduction to criminal justice to terrorism. 

Woolner followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who had served as police officers. Despite a general unpopularity of the police in the 1980s, he went through an English law enforcement degree program and entered into police work.

“It was a bit of a calling,” Woolner said. “I know it sounds corny, but I wanted to help people and be a good public servant.” 

Woolner worked for the London Metropolitan Police Department in the Borough of Hackney, a populous multicultural area in the eastern part of the city. 

“The daytime population is 15.5 million and the nighttime population is just under 8 million people now. You’ve got about 7.5 million people who actually work in London,” Woolner said. “There are something like 250 different languages spoken by people in the city. Obviously when you come into policing policy, you have got to make allowances for that. That’s just part of the training we get.” 

Woolner said a lot of his initial police work was done on foot, something he said has its advantages. 

“When I first started, you were given a beat area and you walked. To be fair, in the parts of London I worked in, with the actual infrastructure of one way streets and narrow streets, it was probably better to walk,” Woolner said. “You had more interaction with people and sometimes you could get to your calls faster by running than by driving. When you weren’t walking you were in vehicles really.”

To understand how Woolner got from London to Anderson, there’s a pivotal moment that began at a place where a lot of people in the United Kingdom and other countries learn about American life—the cinema.

“I watched the movie City Slickers, with Billy Crystal and Jack Palance. It’s about dudes going on a cattle drive. I saw that movie back in ‘92 and I said to my wife that I’d like to go do that. But my wife told me I couldn’t even ride a horse,” Woolner recalled. 

Inspired, Woolner and his wife booked a vacation at a horse ranch in Arizona close to the Mexican border. While he might not have had experience with horses, he enjoyed riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle he bought back in the U.K. 

“At that particular point in time, when you bought a Harley Davidson, you got a magazine that was the same the world over. There was an article by a guy called Pablo Costa about riding in the Sonoran desert in Arizona. I wrote a letter to him and addressed it to a Harley Davidson dealership in Tucson. I thought It would be nice to meet up with them,” Woolner said.

While on vacation they met up with Pablo and his wife Molly and both couples quickly became friends. At one point the Costas moved back to Molly’s hometown of Honea Path, South Carolina, so she could be close to her mother. While Woolner was still a London police officer, he and his wife continued seeing them when on vacation, visiting them in South Carolina. He recalls an experience at Grits n’ Groceries, a favorite local dining spot, where he met someone who would figure big in his future. 

“I’m sitting down one evening eating my dinner in there, when I get tapped on the shoulder by Jeff Black. He was a professor at Anderson University and a retired captain from the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office. He asked if I would like to talk to one of the criminal justice classes about what I had done in London and it’s only about 30 minutes. I said ‘fine, I’ll come.’ I came to his class and, long story short, I was there for the best part of eight hours,” Woolner said. “I was asked to speak to four different classes and I got interviewed on video about the English criminal court system. I just stood up and spoke freely.” 

Hearing Woolner speak, George Ducworth, one of the instructors, asked him about his retirement plans. Woolner replied that he hadn’t given it much thought. 

“George said ‘if you think of yourself as qualified, we’d see if we could employ you on a part-time basis,’” Woolner said. 

While still a member of London Metropolitan Police, Woolner enrolled in the School of Public Service and Administration. He took classes online and was the first international student to do so.

While the fundamentals of law enforcement in the two countries have similarities, Woolner noted that there are also differences.

“We have probably more knife crime in the UK than you do here, and you have more gun crime,” Woolner said. “The problems we face are the same the world over, it’s just the approach. What’s different is how we approach it. In the UK the approach is far less militaristic and far more community oriented. I have to say I think the communication, nonverbal communication skills are drummed into us at an earlier age when we go into our planning process.”

Woolner says he loves teaching and giving back to those in his class. He urges anyone considering law enforcement work to follow their heart and, rather than being swayed by the “noise” of the news media, they should see law enforcement as a way of serving the public and giving back to their communities. 

“We are very fortunate to have Kevin Woolner as an adjunct professor here at Anderson University,” said George Ducworth, coordinator of recruitment and career development for the School of Public Service and Administration. “He has the distinction of coming farther than anyone else to attend The Command College. He was still a member of the London Metropolitan Police when he graduated as a member of the Fifth Cohort in The Command College. He is very bright, articulate, and one of our students’ favorites. He brings a perspective to our students that few other programs have.”

“Kevin is a key faculty member who brings a lot of experience, expertise and student-centered teaching to the school,” said Dr. Clarence “Chuck” Williamson, dean of the School of Public Service and Administration.

“The Command College program is excellent; It really is first class; The School of Public Service and Administration, I’m impressed with it,” Woolner said. “The professors here, what they teach and how they’re teaching it, is absolutely an asset. All the bad side of policing has been on the news, we try to give lots of positives and the good side of American criminal justice.”

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