The Ottumwa Courier

April 17, 2014

Pursuing opportunities


Ottumwa Courier

---- — OTTUMWA — Joe Tafta follows the rules. The Simpson College junior hopes to be a U.S. marshal one day, so he’s careful about what he says and does.

But not always.

On the afternoon of April 1, Tafta says, he nearly got booted out of Dunn Library for making too much noise.

The reason: Tafta had received an email informing him that he had been accepted as an intern this summer in the Miami-Dade Police Department.

Two thousand young people applied. Tafta was one of only eight who were accepted into the prestigious internship program.

“I yelled,” he says, “I was pretty excited. I almost got kicked out of the library, but it was definitely worth it.”

In Tafta, the Miami-Dade Police Department will be getting a 6-foot-3, 250-pound young man from Ottumwa who has set his sights on law enforcement since he was a boy.

That’s one of the reasons he was drawn to Simpson, where he is a double major in criminal justice and business management.

“It’s one of the better colleges in Iowa for criminal justice,” he says. “I decided to come to college for that reason alone.”

Tafta says he has not been disappointed. Specifically, he credits his advisor, Fred Jones, professor of sociology and criminal justice; Constance Kostelac, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice; and Samantha O’Hara, also an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice.

“Working with Joe has been a rewarding experience,” Jones says. “Joe is one of those students whose efforts to prepare himself for a criminal justice career go far beyond what is expected. Joe has actively pursued opportunities that will draw a distinction between himself and others entering his chosen field.”

Tafta says his Simpson professors helped show him what was possible as far as law enforcement careers, he says.

“Simpson definitely helped prepare me, with all the different classes on ethnic and societal problems,” he says.

Tafta describes the internship process as rigorous, including various background tests. (For the record, the librarians at Dunn forgave his impromptu celebration.) He believes his desire to work and learn in the diverse environment of a large metropolitan area might have helped him get chosen.

“It’s not small-town Iowa,” he says. “It’s not Ottumwa or Indianola. It’s not even Des Moines or one of the bigger cities in Iowa. It’s definitely a metro area. I want that. I want a bigger city where there’s a little more action.”

Tafta says he’s also interested in getting a firsthand look at how the criminal justice system deals with people of various backgrounds and socio-economic levels. But with that comes increased risks, and he knows that.

“There’s another level of violence that you don’t see here,” he says. “It’s definitely going to open my eyes about that aspect.”

And what does his mother, Lori, think?

“I think it’s going to be hard for her, but she knows I’m doing something where I’m going to have a great time and learn a lot. She’s nervous, but she’s excited for me, too.”

Tafta says he will live with an uncle in a suburb north of Miami. While the police department has promised Tafta that he will have the chance to patrol the streets with many different units, it won’t all be work. He also plans to explore South Beach.

“How many kids get to say they have the chance to live in Miami for the summer?” he asks.

If Tafta gets his wish, more Simpson students will follow him. He hopes his experience this summer will open a path for future criminal justice students.

“It’s going to be nice when I come back,” he says. “I’ll be able to share different stories and experiences.”

Speaking of experiences, Tafta enjoyed another one in August 2013 when he served as one of 10 elite security guards for Taylor Swift when she performed at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

“She was very down to Earth and still a high school girl at heart,” Tafta said. “You could really tell that she loves doing what she does.”

That event proceeded without incident. Tafta doubts that will be the case on hot Miami nights this summer, but he’s eager to get started.

“It definitely gets dicey in that area,” he says. “It’s going to be an eye-opening experience.”