From John Jay College of Criminal Justice:

Jillian Snider B.A. ’05, M.A. ’18, a retired New York City Police Department (NYPD) police officer and current John Jay Adjunct Lecturer, didn’t envision herself joining law enforcement until she witnessed her country being attacked. On September 11, 2001, Snider was sitting in an undergraduate philosophy class in New Rochelle, New York. “We could see Manhattan from the window. All of a sudden, we heard a loud bang and saw smoke. Then campus security came running into the classroom. I was witnessing it all happen in front of my eyes and I wasn’t even 18 years old,” says Snider, explaining how this moment made her decide to become a police officer. “After 9/11 and my freshman year of college in New Rochelle, I left a full scholarship and transferred to John Jay College. I knew it was the best path toward becoming a police officer.”

She couldn’t take the NYPD entrance exam until her 18th birthday, but as soon as she turned 18, that test was on Snider’s mind. “I know people that passed away on 9/11. It was horrible, but it also inspired me. Thousands of cops, firemen, paramedics, and EMS ran into this chaos and died. They gave that sacrifice to try and save someone else,” says Snider, who also works as a Policy Director at R Street Institute, a nonprofit public policy research organization, where she focuses on criminal justice and civil liberties. “I couldn’t think of anything better that I could  put my energy and effort into. That’s why I became a cop.” We sat down with Snider to learn more about her NYPD career and her insight into law enforcement.

Her Journey at John Jay
Snider was always interested in the law, and when she came to John Jay, she majored in Legal Studies. “I took a constitutional law class with professor Christopher Morse and I ended up referring to that class throughout my entire career,” says Snider. “You learn a lot of tactics and technicalities in the police department and in your training, but I was obsessed with the law.” Before she started her career as a police officer, Snider wanted to make sure that she understood constitutional rights. From her perspective, violating or circumventing a person’s constitutional rights discredited the department and the credibility of police officers. In her classes at John Jay, that meant hunkering down and studying the constitution, Supreme Court decisions, and topics like exigent circumstances.

“In my entire career, I never had a complaint launched against me for unconstitutional search and seizure or any of those CCRB [Civilian Complaint Review Board] level cases that people will make a complaint. I’ve never had a CCRB launched against me in which I was the subject of, and I’ve had a lot of arrests in my career,” she says. In her classes at John Jay, Snider realized that a lack of respect was the underlining factor in most complaints between officers and the communities that they served. “Respect is a big thing for cops, but in order to get respect as a cop, you need to make sure you’re respecting everyone else—even if they’re a perpetrator. You still have to maintain that the person has rights and dignity. You have to show them respect.”

Her NYPD Patrol Days
In 2006, Snider fulfilled her 9/11 goal of becoming a police officer. “No one in my family was a cop. My father was actually in prison, before I was born, so I come from the complete opposite of a law enforcement background,” says Snider, who grew up in Queens, New York. After the police academy, she started patrolling the streets in East New York, Brooklyn. There, her main focus was to positively interact with the community and deter crime. “I never wanted to be a supervisor. I liked working on the street. I didn’t take the job to sit in an office.”

On the job she would respond to all kinds of calls. “When you’re on patrol you’re at the disposal of what your dispatchers give you. You’re handling every type of service call. You could go from a shooting to a burglary, to a domestic dispute, to even a nonsense call.” One of those “nonsense calls” sticks out in Snider’s mind. A grandmother called 911 because her grandson had picked up a plate of food and threw it against the wall, presumably scaring her. “We get there and it’s a five-year-old kid. He threw the plate because he didn’t like the sofrito his grandma put in the rice, so he flung it against the wall and broke the plate. She wanted us to tell him that it was illegal to do that and he could go to jail for that. Patrol was a really a good learning experience because it showed me people’s humanity in so many different situations.”

Her Advice to Future Law Enforcement
After 14 years on the job, Snider knows what it means to be in law enforcement and what it takes to have a successful career in it. She knows that officers see people in some of the worst and most unfortunate situations, and that it’s not about authority but service to the public. She says to her students, and all future police officers, “You need to have empathy. You need to have sympathy. You need to have patience. You need to have understanding. People will love you and people will hate you. But no matter what, you need to maintain your decorum. You have to maintain composure at all times, because people look to you for guidance and help. You have to remain strong, even in the worst of situations.”