The world came to know Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 with the shooting of an unarmed teenager by a police officer. Five years later, NCCU alumnus Jason Armstrong, ’11, was introduced as Ferguson’s new police chief, bringing his criminal justice education, nearly two decades of experience and an upbeat demeanor to the department.
Born in New Jersey and raised in Fayetteville, N.C., Armstrong said he attended North Carolina Central University to play basketball.
“I wanted to play at the collegiate level and came to NCCU on a recruiting visit,” Armstrong said.
After a year of balancing basketball and studies, he decided to drop basketball and focus on his academic schedule. Originally a business major, he switched to the Department of Criminal Justice.
“Law enforcement wasn’t at the top of my list, but I always had an interest in it,” Armstrong said. “It was the cool stuff I saw, like what was seen in the movie Bad Boys. When I switched my major, it elevated my academic standing. I became interested in the legal aspects of what I was learning.”
Armstrong said not all of his experiences at NCCU were perfect.
“I actually didn’t like it a whole lot at first,” he recalled. “There were long lines at financial aid, and I got booted out of a dorm room that I had been assigned to, just to name a few incidents.”
However, over four years, Armstrong developed a deep love for the rolling hills and verdant green.
“I was learning a lot about life,” he said. “I was away from home, and the university was preparing me for the trials and tribulations of being on my own and being self-sufficient. Nothing came easy. Students now have access to things that I did not. I look back on the life lessons I learned, the friendships I gained, and people I met, and I see that all of them were invaluable.”
During his senior year, Armstrong heard about a program allowing young college graduates to enter police officer training through the Department of Justice. Their goal was “to change the issues and problems in policing,” he recalled.
“I knew after college, I wanted to leave North Carolina, and since the program was broken up by states, I had my eyes set on a big city that had an NFL team. Georgia was on my mind.”
The final leg of the acceptance process was an interview in front of the panel on May 11, 2001.
“It was a Friday, and I was graduating the next day, May 12, 2001,” Armstrong said. “After finishing the interview and walking out of the room, a woman stopped me and said, ‘Eagle Pride.’ She was a Central graduate.” It must have been a good sign.
“Before I left, they told me I was accepted into the program,” he added.