The Charger Blog

Graduate Student Reflects on Distinguished Career in Law Enforcement

During her nearly 30 years in law enforcement, Lori Adams ’24 M.S. has served the San Diego Police Department in a variety of roles, from helping to solve sex crimes to investigating cold cases. She’s continuing to learn from the past through the expertise and experience of her professors and current leaders in the field as a candidate in the University’s graduate program in investigations.

January 24, 2024

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Lori Adams ’24 M.S. (second from left) with her fellow San Diego police officers.
Lori Adams ’24 M.S. (second from left) with her fellow San Diego police officers.

When Lori Adams ’24 M.S. was growing up in New York, she often heard her dad and her uncles tell stories about their work as New York City police officers. She was intrigued by the unique sense of community, closeness, and camaraderie they experienced in their work, and she was interested in a similar career path.

Years later, her uncle, after retiring from the NYPD, moved to San Diego. He and, later, his son – Adams’s cousin – joined the San Diego Police Department. When Adams visited them, she couldn’t help but be impressed by the sunny weather and the bright way they discussed their work. She too moved to California – and ended up going to the police academy when she was in her mid-20s.

“It looked amazing, being able to do four ten-hour shifts each week in the sunshine doing the job I always wanted to do,” she said. “Going to the academy was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. Never has there been a day when I’ve regretted it."

‘A great deal of responsibility’

Adams is now a detective for the San Diego Police Department – a department she’s been part of for nearly three decades. She’s now found the fulfillment and the community she’d heard about as a kid, making many close friends who share her passion for public service. Her husband, a patrol officer, also shares that passion – he also has been in law enforcement for nearly 30 years.

Adams says that police work is, at its core, customer service with a public safety aspect. One of her favorite parts of her job is the connections she has with the community. She loves meeting people, learning from them, and making a positive impact on their lives.

“Most of this work isn’t about chasing bad guys but about intentionally making connections,” she explains. “It’s about making the communities where people live, work, and raise families a better place for them. It’s about my effect on their ability to live the life they want to live. I recognize that not everything I do is going to be on a grand scale to me, but to them it is, and I hold that with a great deal of responsibility.”

Lori Adams ’24 M.S. (in uniform) with her family.
Lori Adams ’24 M.S. (in uniform) with her family.
‘It’s more than a job’

It's a role that Adams continues to find not only rewarding but also fun and challenging. She and her fellow law enforcement officers must keep up with the laws while keeping abreast of best practices for investigations, policing techniques, and interacting with the community. She says that her father’s generation of law enforcement is completely different from how it was in the 1990s, and that is very different from the field today.

Adams knows this from experience, as she has had the opportunity to serve her department and community in a variety of ways as her career has evolved. She started out as a patrol officer, working in several different areas of San Diego. She then spent time serving in various departments, including roles in Juvenile Services, Sex Crimes, and Cold Case Homicide, where she has been for more than a decade. Cold Case is where, she says, she does her best work – work that she believes is what she was meant to do. Adams also supports the department’s Missing Persons Unit, and she has offered support to the Domestic Violence Unit.

The field is continuing to evolve, and Adams says it is increasingly important for members of the law enforcement community to continue their education and to have experience. She actively helps educate and train law enforcement officers, teaching de-escalation techniques to personnel in the county as part of a contract with the District Attorney’s office.

“It’s an honor to be considered for this job, and it is challenging to obtain and keep a job,” said Adams, who has spent 20 years teaching topics such as juvenile law, diversity, and death investigations to police recruits at the police academy. “For me, it’s more than a job – it’s an extension of what I can do for my community. It’s what I was born to do. I’ve found where I’m supposed to be.”

Lori Adams ’24 M.S. (left) with another female officer.
Lori Adams ’24 M.S. (left) has been a member of the San Diego Police Department for nearly three decades.
‘The University’s program is unique’

Even with her passion for her work, Adams will have to retire in just over a year. That has her thinking about her future – and her past. She’d always looked up to her father, a former NYPD lieutenant who also had his master’s degree, and she hoped to continue her own education. Earning her bachelor’s degree had taught her, in part, that she enjoyed learning online. She began exploring online master’s degree programs.

After she’d been a part of a few forensic investigative genetic genealogy (FIGG) cases at work, Adams attended a FIGG conference in San Diego. There, she heard from Claire Glynn, Ph.D., founding director of the University of New Haven’s FIGG online graduate certificate program. Intrigued, Adams explored the University’s website and discovered the graduate program in investigations that would enable her to earn her degree online.

“I thought, these are my people,” she recalls. “I wanted to fine-tune my skills. This was me at my core. I am an investigator, and there are lots of opportunities in investigations. I don’t want to be the cop who retires. I want to be the cop with a master’s degree in investigations. The degree will push me over the edge to be more than a retired cop. I want to stand out.”

Adams has immersed herself in the program, discovering a variety of exciting courses that she says she couldn’t wait to take. She particularly enjoyed a course on bribery and corruption, which she describes as “fascinating.” Her coursework has offered an important overview of investigations, as well as how the law and the constitution are applied.

“The classes at the University truly give students a broad perspective that you don’t find anywhere else,” she said. “I looked at probably 15-20 master’s programs before finding this one, and the University’s program is unique.”

‘Work together to help solve cases’

Adams continues to learn about the present and future of investigations through her coursework, and she’s also learning from the past through her work investigating cold cases. Decades ago, investigators didn’t have the tools and technology that exist today. They were skilled communicators who relied on their connections with the community to solve cases. Adams enjoys learning from them, and she extends the credit for solving cold cases to the original investigators.

As technology and techniques continue to improve, it is creating a “perfect forensic storm” that is enabling investigators to solve cases in ways they never could before. Adams cites FIGG and improved techniques for gathering information from DNA and latent prints as gamechangers.

Adams hopes those following in her footsteps will learn from those who have served before them and that they’ll appreciate the critical role they have in serving their communities. She emphasizes the importance of good communication skills, whether that means report writing, being articulate in court, or interacting with the public. She also urges students to seek mentorship opportunities Her own mentor has more than four decades of experience in the field.

And, as a cold case investigator, Adams urges new investigators to remember the importance of lifting prints at a crime scene. It is a way for investigators to stand out, to demonstrate their dedication to solving the case, and to show their diligence. She says it could make a difference in closing the case today – or tomorrow.

“I had a case from 1990, and the investigators understood that the suspect showered, so they went back and lifted footprints,” she recalls. “Fast forward, and I arrested a guy. We took his footprints and matched them to the prints from the shower. That’s how important prints were before DNA, and they should not lose relevance or importance because of DNA. They should work together to help solve cases. You might solve that case based on that print alone.”