By Juan Calvillo
Retiring Administration of Justice professor Janis Cavanaugh has dedicated her life to teaching students to succeed and nurturing future law enforcers.
She said she has been a part of many different disciplines and career paths. Cavanaugh worked in law enforcement and education at the same time for much of her 43 year long career.
Cavanaugh started with the reserve police in 1972 when she was one of the first female officers to go on patrol in the City of El Monte. She joined the police force full time in 1974, during a time when women in law enforcement was not a normal occurrence. Cavanaugh said the department gave her a chance, and once they saw what she was capable of, they began hiring more female officers.Cavanaugh began teaching in that very same career, becoming an instructor at the police academy.
She had taken firearms classes in college and was on a pistol team before joining the police force. Having this background allowed Cavanaugh to easily win over those at the academy.
“When I became an instructor at the police academy they accepted me immediately. They just said ‘oh she knows how to shoot.’ Now knowing how to shoot and knowing how to teach are two different things,” Cavanaugh said.
Luckily Cavanaugh is just as skilled at teaching as she is adept at shooting. She said her style of teaching is hands-on, and that she is cognizant of students’ responses and needs. She said that the interaction with the students is one of the biggest things she will miss when she retires.
Cavanaugh said that as she was teaching her Administration of Justice classes she came to the realization that something more specialized was needed. This happened after the OJ Simpson trial ended in a way that surprised Cavanaugh and many others.
Cavanaugh started a class that centered around forensic science and evidence collecting. She went on to make the class accredited for Police Officer Standard Training.
“Oh my god the people were swarming to it. The students were swarming to get into that class,” Cavanaugh said.
Cavanaugh made the leap to ELAC in 2005 when she was hired by Patrick Hauser in the Administration of Justice department. She was brought in to run the forensic program at ELAC, and in 2007 became a full time professor. Since then Cavanaugh has continued to work in the department.
Cavanaugh has worked tirelessly to make sure students are taught and mentored in the department. She said the one thing that was most important was making sure students understood that they didn’t need a science degree to do well in forensics. Cavanaugh wants students to understand that they can succeed in these classes.
Since she started working in the El Monte police department years ago, she has held one motto in mind. When she was told she couldn’t accomplish something she simply went down the correct path and kept going until she persevered.
This mindset is something that she has passed on to her students. One of the students who took this to heart is a current professor at ELAC in the Administration of Justice Department, Cristie Fish. She’s known Cavanaugh for about 15 years. Fish earned a degree and then went to an academy that Cavanaugh worked at.
Fish was inspired by Cavanaugh’s passion and way of teaching forensics. She said that when Cavanaugh asked her where she saw herself going, Fish said she wanted to work in the field and teach.
Cavanaugh invited Fish to start teaching at ELAC in 2015. When Fish first returned to campus as an instructor she was impressed with the way Cavanaugh stopped and chatted with so many of the students. Over the years working together Fish said Cavanaugh showed that she is irreplaceable.
Fish said it’s Cavanaugh’s humble nature and her kindness to her current students is something that incoming students will really miss out on. She said it’s in her nature to be magnetic despite working in a field where some tend to judge too quickly.
“It’s hard when you realize that she for her whole life has been a cop. People are sometimes surprised at that, because people think ‘oh my gosh cops are so mean or hard headed.’ And then you meet Dr. Cavanaugh and you’re like, ‘what?’,” Fish said.
It is her personality that has made Cavanaugh such an important part of the Administration of Justice department and an important part of her students’ lives.
Cavanaugh has held different and exciting career titles. She was an undercover cop, a chief of police and even worked as a medical assistant coordinator for the 1984 Olympic Committee. And the entire time she’s taken on these exciting jobs, she’s been teaching.
Cavanaugh was born in 1952. She grew up in a time when women were not afforded very many avenues for career development. Despite that she has done so much and touched the lives of many. Cavanaugh said that with all this it might be time to take a moment and reflect.
“I’m very much looking forward to retirement. If not just to slow down. Just a little. Because I’ve been going a hundred miles an hour for forty years,” Cavanaugh said.
Yet she also wanted to make it clear that despite her retiring she wouldn’t be gone from ELAC all together. Cavanaugh said that in some form she would be back, specifically as the coordinator of the Forensic Crime Scene Investigation Certificate Program.