Experienced criminal justice professor joins Lakeland


Callah Kraus

Bemiller sits at her desk located in the lower level of William A. Krueger Hall.

Amanda Smith , Staff Reporter

Melissa Tetzlaff-Bemiller, assistant professor of criminal justice, brings nine years of higher education and experience with the FBI to Lakeland’s criminal justice program.

“She is a well-equipped and well-organized professor. Her teaching style gives us more information from her perspective because of what she has learned from her job and education experience,” said Christopher Cruz, senior criminal justice major.

While she grew up in La Paz, Ind., she moved to Orlando, Fla., to attend the University of Central Florida (UCF). She started school in the summer of 2004 and received her doctorate this past August.

Her education includes a bachelor of science in criminal justice with minors in psychology and sociology. In addition, she also got a certificate in crime scene investigation and criminal profiling. She then went on to get her master’s in applied sociology. After that, she got her doctorate in sociology with a concentration on crime and deviance. With hard work, she was able to complete everything in nine years.

While attending UCF, Tetzlaff-Bemiller attended a research methods class that the FBI was hosting because of the connections two of her professors had. One week was all it took for her to become interested in doing research.

For the class, she went to Quantico with two of her professors and two of her classmates. FBI personnel, mostly from the Behavioral Science Unit (BSU), directed the class. The class offered her the opportunity to learn how the FBI researches crimes and what they are interested in when it comes to crimes. In addition, she was required to do a project of her choosing as long as it fit in with what they were doing.

The project that she decided to research was expected murder vs. unexpected murder. This is, in part, due to her focus and interest in heinous crimes.

“It is all about society’s perspective: who do we think is more likely to be murdered vs. who do we think is less likely to be murdered [by looking at the media’s coverage of different murders], said Tetzlaff-Bemiller in explaining her research project.

Three years ago, Tetzlaff-Bemiller also joined the Homicide Research Working Group (HRWG), which she is a part of today by being the program co-chair and serving on three different committees. HRWG consists of a wide range of people including homicide detectives, police officers, FBI agents, researchers and academics (professors) who meet every year to discuss homicide. Since she is part of this group, she has been asked to research certain topics with other members of the organization including members of the FBI.

“I’m not really in or work for them, but I research with [the FBI], which is a type of work,” said Tetzlaff-Bemiller. In other words, the research work she does gives her connections with the FBI, but she does not work for them.

Another project that she has helped with involves some of her classmates from UCF and an FBI official. When the FBI changed the definition on how many victims constitute mass murder, her group was asked to see if the change resulted in a sound policy or if it needed improvement.

Lakeland College is her first job after college. She wanted to be close to her family in Indiana because family means a lot to her.

“I fell in love with the area and the community feel of the campus,” said Tetzlaff-Bemiller. “I [also] like to know my students by their names and know a little bit about them.”

Tetzlaff-Bemiller also feels that one of her strengths is the research she has done. According to her, she can tell her students what the authors of the textbooks are saying, what the agencies, like the FBI, say, and what she has discovered in her work all to give them different perspectives of the topic the class is discussing.

“Lakeland is lucky to have gotten Melissa. Her knowledge and expertise in violence research is a significant contribution to Lakeland’s criminal justice program and our students. In the short time she has been here, she has made considerable positive contributions to our students experiences and has helped to diversify the courses offered in the criminal justice program,” said Richard Lemke, assistant professor of criminal justice.

If you had asked her what she wanted to do 10 years ago, she would not have said teaching. Her first thought was to become a homicide detective or a sex crimes investigator. When she started teaching during her master’s program, she realized that she enjoyed it and fell in love with teaching.

In addition to her teaching and researching, she also accepted the position to be the head coach of both dance and cheerleading at Lakeland. She used to be a dancer and cheerleader until injuries prevented her from continuing it in college. Even though she could not do dance or cheer in college, she still coached for a couple years before school became too hectic for both.

“She brings high expectations and plenty of experience to bring those programs to the next level as well,” said Megan Lawson, senior business management and sociology major.

When she has free time, she enjoys going for a walk or hike with her husband. She also enjoys spending time with her two cats, Snowflake and Whizzer.

One interesting thing she would love to do in the future is to buy a house with a barn so she can have an animal rehabilitation area.

“I’m looking forward to, as Lakeland calls it, being a big fish instead of swimming with thousands and helping my students to do the same,” said Tetzlaff-Bemiller.”