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Jun 3, 2021 Finance Student

23-year veteran Chicago-area cop returns to finish finance degree

The ease with which his second and fourth graders adapted to online learning during the pandemic has inspired a Chicago-area police detective to finish up his undergraduate degree in finance at Gies College of Business more than 25 years after he started.

“I’ve always fallen back on economic principles when interviewing suspects, without using business terms like supply and demand or incentives,” said Lou Hayes, Detective Sergeant and Major Crimes Unit Investigator. “If you want suspects and witnesses to talk to you, you have to diminish their fears and accentuate their motivations like you would any customer.”

Lou HayesHayes was just one semester shy of graduating from Gies College of Business when he traded the Quad for the Police Academy. Between his junior and senior year, he started the six- to nine-month process of applying for a job in a suburban Chicago police department. He scored well on the entrance exam, accepted the position, and finished his fall semester a handful of credits short of a degree.

“My dad was a career officer and my uncle spent time policing as well. They weren't doing the typical desk job I’d have as a finance major. I enjoyed listening to their stories and knew they felt like they were making a difference. That excited me,” said Hayes, who initially headed to the University of Illinois as an engineering major. “STEM was easy for me, but I realized a business degree was more in line with my personal goals. I wanted the benefits of financial literacy and a degree in something other than criminal justice.”

With his education on hold, Hayes moved up the ranks. Within four years, he was promoted to detective, making him one of the youngest on the force. He was assigned to the SWAT Team and rose to become a trainer and supervisor. He was promoted to sergeant in 2017 and is currently the commanding officer of the Investigations Division. 

“My business education’s biggest influence has been looking at things from a systems perspective, instead of isolated, linear cause and effect,” said Hayes “I teach my team to consider multiple causes and multiple effects – many of which are going to be unpredictable – and how to make decisions in an environment where something very small ends up having a very large impact.”

For the past 10 years Hayes has also partnered with fellow off-duty police officers to teach decision-making to SWAT teams, intelligence analysts, detectives, and supervisors through a training company he developed called The Illinois Model™.  He recently completed a large program for the New York City Police Department that focused on teaching officers how to develop better critical- and adaptive-thinking skills.

Now, 23 years into his law enforcement career and nearing retirement eligibility, Hayes has begun to think about what’s next.

“This unfinished degree has been quietly looming over my head for over two decades. A lot of factors are aligned now, including work, family, and personal commitments. It feels like the perfect time to get back to college,” said Hayes.

“Part of my motivation to return to school was seeing how engaged my kids were with online learning during the last school year. I decided it’s time for dad to step up and do it, too,” he said.

Hayes reached out to Gies, working with an academic advisor to determine if he could complete his remaining coursework remotely. He took his first course this spring and is about to start another this summer. Because of graduation requirements that have been added since 1998, he has eight more courses to complete.

“I've been really impressed with the students in my class. They are so engaged and driven, having started clubs for machine learning and video game design in their high schools,” said Hayes, who continues to work 8- to 10-hour shifts.

Hayes said he returned to Gies because of the quality of the education and its reputation for job placement. He hopes to use his work background to help some of his younger classmates better address disagreement, debate, and conflict during online instruction.

“In my unit I make sure I create an environment that breeds dissent. There has to be democratized decision-making, not just following what I said because I'm the boss. In policing, we call it ‘red teaming’ –  being critical of the ideas and your own assumptions in a productive way. not attacking the person.”

Hayes jokingly said his mom will soon have to find something besides his unfinished education to bug him about. “She continually reminds me how close I’ve been to this degree. It will be a huge relief to finish it. To do so at Illinois, where I started, will be quite special to me.”

After he graduates, Hayes hopes to take the critical thinking he’s learned from his law enforcement career and apply it to his work in the financial sector.

“The bulk of my case load now is based on Chicago street gang crime, which has shifted from predominantly street drug sales to highly sophisticated identity theft, auto theft, and financial crimes,” he said. “I hope to apply and transfer my knowledge of criminal patterns and social network analysis to make sense of business data and financial trends in ways that haven’t been seen before.”