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First graduate of international crime and justice program researches trust in police
Candice Ammons-Blanfort at her commencement ceremony

First graduate of international crime and justice program researches trust in police

August 23, 2019 at 12:00pm

Candice Ammons-Blanfort ’19 is a champion of having a global perspective. If you don’t know what people in other countries are doing, how can you learn from them, she asks.

When she discovered FIU’s Ph.D. in International Crime and Justice – a new program focusing on the global aspect within the criminology and criminal justice field – she knew it was the right fit for her. 

Ammons-Blanfort began at FIU in the fall of 2015 as part of the program’s first class.

The degree, offered through the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice (CCJ), under the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs, is one that speaks directly to FIU’s mission to provide an international education, says CCJ Chair Lisa Stolzenberg.

“With its innovative specialization, the international crime and justice program prepares students for academic careers and professional life in public and private justice organizations,” Stolzenberg explains. “This degree, unlike traditional criminal justice degrees, fosters research on criminology and criminal justice from a comparative and international perspective.

"Not only does this program bring in people from all over the world to think about crime from a global perspective, but it also caters to local practitioners who want to earn a doctorate degree and lead their agencies. It fits perfectly with our university’s global learning initiative.”

 While in the program, Ammons-Blanfort conducted research on an increasingly pressing topic: the distrust of law enforcement officers by communities of color. She studied this by analyzing the level of “self-help” or “vigilante justice” – taking the law into their own hands because of distrust of police – present in black communities across the country. 

She found that blacks were less likely to use firearms in areas with diverse police departments. This finding, she says, helps point to a crucial idea: people are more likely to trust law enforcement officers who look like them.

This forms the basis for her future goal – to help diversify police departments as a way to help increase trust in law enforcement for communities who have a deep fear of police officers.

Now a visiting instructor at FIU, she’s ready to help students – many of whom hope to one day become police officers – learn about the importance of diversity and cultural sensitivity in criminal justice.

“I want my students to be able to connect what they’re learning and make it practical, so they can use it. They can change the perception of law enforcement, start to tear down those walls of division, really encourage community engagement and rebuild citizen trust.”

This summer, Ammons-Blanfort became the first student to graduate from the program. She did it in an impressive four years – all while juggling a hectic family life and giving birth to two baby boys.

“It was a matter of focusing and being really determined,” she explains. “For me it really boiled down to just knowing that no matter what, I’m going to keep moving. Having faculty support also made a world of difference. I’m eternally grateful for that.”

Ammons-Blanfort says various faculty members – including Carleen Vincent, senior instructor and associate chair for the department – helped her keep her eye on the prize and were there to comfort her when she needed it the most.

When her father-in-law suffered an accident that left him paralyzed, Vincent went to the hospital to support her.

When Ammons-Blanfort found out she was pregnant with her first child – the same semester she began the program – she was intimidated by the prospect of balancing both her schoolwork and growing family. Vincent assured her she was up to the challenge.

“I can’t tell you the number of times I felt like giving up,” Ammons-Blanfort says. “And the entire time, Dr. Vincent was telling me, ‘Candice you can do this.’”

Vincent notes, “Having walked in her shoes, I was well aware of the support and strength required to cross the stage with the degree in hand. It was Candice’s grace under fire — her ability to remain even-tempered in stressful situations — as well as her strength of mind and character that caught my attention.

"She was and continues to be an amalgamation of passion, talent, curiosity, integrity and grit — all of which are moderated by her humility and unassuming nature. I am excited for the students who will be graced by her presence this fall and I look forward to welcoming her into the department as my friend and colleague.”

Ammons-Blanfort will speak about gun violence on campus during the “How to Understand and Deal with Gun Violence: Memorial and Teach-in,” which will take place on Tuesday, Aug. 27, at the Modesto A. Maidique Campus, Graham Center 243. To RSVP for this event, click here.