College of Arts and Sciences

Former police officer finds new calling in social work

Ann Marie Dennis

Ann Marie Dennis

icon of a calendarMay 31, 2023

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Former police officer finds new calling in social work
Ann Marie Dennis

Ann Marie Dennis wore many hats during her 20-year career in law enforcement.   

After working as a dispatcher for Ingham County, Dennis graduated from the Mid-Michigan Police Academy at Lansing Community College in 2000. Then 27 and mother of a young son, Dennis began her career as a police officer in Williamston, a small city about 20 minutes east of Lansing. She later worked for Pontiac and Oakland County, serving in various roles from road patrol to dispatch to corrections and courts. 

“I kind of did everything,” said Dennis, whose career was disrupted by mass layoffs amid the 2008 recession. Over a multi-year span, she worked several jobs – including as a part-time patrol officer for the Holly Police Department – before returning to work as a dispatcher for Pontiac, and then for Oakland County when the sheriff’s office took over law enforcement within the city. 

“After Oakland County took over, I was initially in dispatch for several months,” Dennis recalled. “I then transferred to the jail. I was trained, as all deputies are, in all areas of the jail, but after training I was assigned to the women's wing of the Annex section of the jail. Most days I was assigned to a pod, which holds 64 female inmates, where it was my job to maintain the safety and security of the inmates.” 

Eventually, Dennis transferred from the jail to the courts. She worked primarily at the Oakland County Circuit Court, where she was responsible for transporting inmates between jail and court and maintaining order in courtrooms, among other duties. She also filled in at district courts, including Rochester, Novi and Clarkston. 

Dennis battled chronic health challenges throughout much of her career. In 2018, following her second back surgery, she decided to leave law enforcement and enroll in Oakland University’s bachelor of integrative studies program, with minors in criminal justice and sociology. She took classes year-round, earning her bachelor’s degree and entering OU’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program in fall 2019.

As a graduate assistant for OU Sociology Professor Jay Meehan, Dennis started conducting research on police-involved shootings through a partnership grant with UC Santa Barbara and Wilfrid Laurier University, in Canada. With support from Meehan and other professors, she turned her master’s thesis into a book titled “Behind Her Badge: A Woman’s Journey into and out of Law Enforcement.” Due out this July, the book chronicles Dennis’ struggle to find success in law enforcement and how education and research enlightened her to realities of policing she had previously overlooked.

After completing her master’s degree in liberal studies in 2021, Dennis spent a year in the doctoral program in organizational leadership before discovering her passion for social work.

“I reached out to (Social Work Program Director) Maria Beam and we had a long conversation, and after that I was sure that social work was a better fit for me,” said Dennis. She was even more convinced when she interned at Easterseals MORC in Pontiac, assisting with client outreach, developing curriculum for peer support group therapy, and analyzing data to assess program effectiveness and client needs.     

“Even though I felt like I knew the people of Pontiac really well, this was such a different side of Pontiac, seeing people in these vulnerable positions reaching out for help and actually getting it,” Dennis reflected. “I just felt like this was exactly where I’m supposed to be.” 

Dennis has immersed herself in Oakland University’s Master of Social Work program, taking courses in human behavior and research. For one of her classes, she is completing a needs assessment of a nonprofit that supports women who have been victims of sex trafficking.

“My research will be a mixed methods study assessing how the clients feel about the mental health and addiction therapy services they are receiving,” said Dennis, adding that one of her former police commanders helped connect her with the organization.

Outside of class, Dennis was recently elected vice president of OU’s social work club. She continues to explore job possibilities, including some within her former profession.

“I found out that social workers work in the courts, they’re in probation offices, they work at Friend of the Court and in the medical field, which is why I decided to do an internship at DaVita Dialysis this fall.” 

While she hasn’t ruled anything out, Dennis says her dream job is to be a social worker in a women’s jail or prison, or to work with women who have been sex trafficked.

“I’m super passionate about that because I worked in undercover prostitution, and I got to be close with a lot of prostitutes and some of them were victims of sex trafficking,” she shared. “Helping those women to get back to a normal life is where I see my dream job." 

Above all, Dennis is grateful for the educational experiences that helped her find the best career for her.

“I think I would be happy in any number of jobs in social work,” she said. “I’m going to turn 50 soon, and I feel like it’s so crazy that it took me 50 years to finally figure out what I want to do with my life. So I guess the message is that it’s never too late.”

Learn more about OU’s social work programs at


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