Alumni Provide a Midwestern Pipeline to SHSU

Capt. Brian Richenberger of the Columbia MO Police Department partipated in the Criminal Justice Career Fair.
Capt. Brian Richenberger of the Columbia MO Police Department partipated in the 2012 Criminal Justice Career Fair.

Tucked among the Texas departments, federal agencies and private employers at the 2012 Criminal Justice Career Fair was a booth for the Columbia, Missouri Police Department. It was staffed by a Sam Houston State University alumnus.

“Sam Houston reaches out far,” said Captain Brian Richenberger, who graduated in 1993. “I still think about the career fairs when I went here and I remember how much I enjoyed meeting with the large variety of agencies. To this day, our department participates in career fairs, and I wanted to represent my department at the school that I graduated from.”

The link between Huntsville and Columbia doesn’t stop at Richenberger. The city’s Police Chief, Kenneth M. Burton, is also a criminal justice alumnus, and two former officers received degrees from SHSU, including one using the Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice Leadership and Management program. Richenberger’s wife, Heather (formerly Heather Wilson) is also an alumna, with a degree in Psychology.

Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton
Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton
With the city hiring new officers, officials are hoping to strengthen ties with the college with new recruits.

“I think Sam Houston graduates are a good fit for departments anywhere,” said Burton, who worked in Dallas, Arlington, Bryan, and Haltom City in Texas before moving to Columbia in 2009. “The education is not Texas-focused. It prepares you to go anywhere, and it’s more common these days for people to go across the country to get a job.”

“We’re a progressive department that values education,” said Burton. “We would be delighted to show interested graduates around the city and provide a ride-along with our officers.”

After completing an internship with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Richenberger began his law enforcement career in Texas first as a Montgomery County probation officer and later as a Reserve Deputy with the Madison County Sheriff’s Office. Richenberger moved to Columbia in 1997 so his wife could attend law school at the University of Missouri. While waiting for a spot to open up on the local police department, Richenberger served brief stints as a Corrections Officer with the Missouri Department of Correction and later as an investigator with the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Capt. Brian Richenberger (center in khaki shorts) served on the SWAT team and Narcotic Unit during a murder arrest.
Capt. Brian Richenberger (center in khaki shorts) served on the SWAT team and Narcotic Unit during a murder arrest.
Since joining the department in 1997, Richenberger has fulfilled his dreams of working in undercover narcotics and is rising through the ranks. As Captain, he oversees all investigative units, including resource officers, the street crimes unit, SWAT, traffic and evidence.

“I’m very happy with the path of my career,” said Richenberger. “I was able to do the things I wanted to do, like SWAT and undercover narcotics. I also wanted to be able to promote. The opportunities in the department were there to do what I wanted to do.”

Located about 800 miles from Huntsville, Columbia is a Midwestern community with a population of 108,000 and is home to the University of Missouri, Columbia College and Stephens College. At one time, the city was ranked by Money Magazine as the second best place to live in the United States.

“It’s a really good place to live and work,” said Richenberger. “The city has a lot to offer. We experience all the seasons, the city provides many opportunities and the police department has allowed me to fulfill my career goals.”

Like all new officers, Richenberger spent his first few years in patrol before advancing to the narcotics division. There he worked on a multi-jurisdictional task force and frequently worked in an undercover capacity. Later, he was assigned to the SWAT unit, which executed many narcotic search warrants as well as responded to barricaded suspects and trained for hostage situations.

Capt. Richenberger was a member of the city's SWAT team.
Capt. Richenberger was a member of the city's SWAT team.
“Everyone in police work is drawn to certain areas and mine was narcotics.” Said Richenberger. “You got to see things the average person, or even other police officers, don’t get to see. You see crimes as they occur while working undercover or utilizing other covert techniques. I feel a lot of the people we targeted not only were involved in drugs, but other violent crime as well. You get a sense that you are doing something important.”

Although he enjoyed the work immensely, he returned to patrol to help him climb the ladder in his department.

“It’s different every day,” Richenberger said of his time in patrol work. “You have a clean slate every day. You get exposed to a wide variety of things. You could arrest a felon one minute and the next you’re responding to an accident.”

During the career fair, Richenberger said he had several students who were interested in following in his footsteps out of state. The city is expected to have two civil service tests this year and the deadline for applications are May 4 and Aug. 3.

This was Richenberger’s first trip back to SHSU since leaving Huntsville. “It was great to go to a place that had a large concentration of people with the same interests and the opportunity for internships.,” Richenberger said of his time as a student at SHSU. “ If you had questions, they got you the answer or they put you in touch with the people that did. The reputation of the school also assisted in those connections.”

Member of The Texas State University System