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New criminal justice program head on Portsmouth Campus shows students the real side of law enforcement

Kelly Kraynak’s introduction to law enforcement started when she was 16.

“I had my wallet stolen out of my car,” she said.

The ensuing conversation with a police sergeant inspired her to see policing from the inside.  Recently retired from a 30-year career with local and state police in her native Connecticut, Kraynak joined Tidewater Community College at the beginning of spring semester as program head of administration of justice for the Portsmouth Campus.

“I can take the book and apply it to real-life situations, and that’s what the criminal justice staff does at every TCC campus,” said the assistant professor. “It’s been a whole gamut of amazing things in my career.”

Bicycle patrol. Chases, births, CPR. She’s even been undercover as a high school student. “I loved the job,” she said.

As a teen, Kraynak signed up for Police Explorers, a career-oriented program that exposes young adults to law enforcement careers. Hired by the Hartford Police Department, she assisted in the detective bureau prior to turning 21, the age required to enter the police academy

Her 10 years on the job as a police officer was followed by 20 with Connecticut State Police.

“I enjoyed the adventure, the high action,” she said. “That’s what makes people watch crime shows. They pack a lot in an hour, but that’s all negated by the paperwork.”

Kraynak is a community college graduate herself, having earned an associate in criminal justice from Manchester Community College, where she also was an adjunct instructor. She completed her bachelor’s at Mountain State University followed by a master’s at Boston University.

“I totally get the fact that community college students might be single moms or military or have family needs,” she said. “As long as I see someone trying, I’m willing to work with them. Community college is here to provide success for people who otherwise might not have the opportunity.”

Kraynak teaches a full course load of classes that she strives to make engaging and interactive. The negativity surrounding law enforcement concerns her enough that she encourages thoughtful discussion about topics that include the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the death of Eric Garner in Baltimore.

“In many ways, we’ve reverted back to the 1960s with all the racial issues happening,” she said. “I want to be the voice of change, the voice that educates and explains.”

Encouraging women and minorities to enter the field is important, she said, as recruitment for both in policing is at an all-time low. The former linebacker – yes, she was a football player for the Connecticut Crush of the National Women’s Football League – enjoys being a mentor.

“Women often push other women away because they’ve had it so tough,” she said. “I always found mentorship in the department to be rewarding.”

Now she takes that role at TCC.

Students who earn associate degrees in criminal justice benefit, she said, from the foundation the program provides. That head start makes graduates competitive candidates, whether they choose to go to work immediately, enter the police academy or transfer to a four-year university.

Kraynak also plans to take an active role in TCC’s Portsmouth-based Criminal Justice Club. A trip to Liberty University for a hands-on learning opportunity at a mock crime scene has become an annual ritual. She’s working on sponsored lecture panels and other opportunities to give students a window into law enforcement.

“It’s important for us to give students a real-life show of what goes on,” she said. “Luckily we’ve got instructors who bring that experience.”

In her free time, Kraynak is on the move. Last summer, she completed her first Ironman in Quebec and is training for another.

Interested in exploring a criminal justice career? Contact Kraynak at