Justin Harris (right) with NCIS agent Dustin Hubert
Most Americans know of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) through the hit cable television show. But University of Arkansas – Fort Smith student Justin Harris of Elkins got to see the law enforcement agency firsthand through a summer internship.
The criminal justice major spent 10 weeks at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., where he worked in the many different units within the NCIS including special operations, sexual crimes and counterintelligence.
Harris spent time in each unit as he was needed, offering variety to the internship.
“NCIS is unique in the aspect that they investigate any felony crime that is committed by or against a member of the Marines or the Navy. Because of this, I was given the exposure to every facet of the agency,” Harris said. “One day, we could be interviewing a rape suspect or processing a death scene, and the next could be an undercover drug buy or doing surveillance. NCIS agents are well-versed in investigating many different types of crimes, which speaks for the diversity of the agents’ backgrounds.”
While the experience helped prepare him for a future in law enforcement, he also received advice from seasoned agents on how to forge a successful career in the field.
“The 20 agents I get to work regularly with here all come from different backgrounds,” Harris said. “That’s 20 people that you get to pick their brain on where they’ve been and their thoughts on how to be successful.”
He was also able to apply his learnings from UAFS. When Harris and other interns arrived at the scene of a suicide to document it, Harris found himself well-prepared for the task thanks to his classes in the criminal justice program.
“We studied crime scene documentation in class, so I could see what needed to be done and where I could assist,” Harris said. “I’ve realized that some other schools don’t offer the same hands-on learning as UAFS has, and it’s really played an important role in my internship.”
Prior to enrolling at UAFS, Harris was working as an HVAC repairman in Kansas. While the job paid well and had advancement opportunities, he didn’t find the work fulfilling, and felt himself coming to a crossroads: he either needed to stick with his current job and make it a career, or he needed to go back to school and pursue another field of study.
Harris had always respected law enforcement officers and the difference they were able to make in their community.
“I understand that police officers get a bad reputation by many, but the love that these officers show for their community and their country is seldom found elsewhere,” he said. “Being a cop gives you the opportunity to truly serve your community and show them the love that we're supposed to mirror every day.”
“You can impact the lives of many through going to work every day, and yet every call could potentially be your last,” he added. “Sacrificing your life for a total stranger, most of whom would never return the favor, is arguably one of the most selfless yet underappreciated acts that one could commit. So long story short, I've always wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, and law enforcement gives me that opportunity.”
With that in mind, Harris decided he wanted to become a law enforcement officer. His sister graduated from UAFS and spoke highly of the institution, enticing him to enroll at the university.
“Here at UAFS, we have one of the best criminal justice programs in the nation, and a lot of that is because of our professors. They all come from different backgrounds and are able to assist students in pursuing their dreams, no matter the path that is required,” Harris said. “For me, that professor was Tony Pearn. Having a background in federal law enforcement, he was able to provide insight as to what it takes to be successful in that career.”
“UAFS has helped transform me into the man I need to be in order to be successful in all aspects of life,” Harris added.