By Ann Muder
Sgt. Michael Wintersole ’15 ’18 was working a regular patrol shift when he got a call about a house on fire. The house was fully engulfed and there was someone inside. Fire spread through the eaves of the house, which was ready to collapse.
“We ran in and found the victim and another hero neighbor who was trying to help,” says Wintersole. “We were able to carry the victim out of the house and make sure the neighbor got out.”
For his actions, Wintersole received the Gold Distinguished Service Medal in 2009. It was just one highlight of a law enforcement career spanning 23 years with the Cypress Police Department in California.
Wintersole retired in 2022, but he still uses his law enforcement experience to help others. Today, he teaches law enforcement and criminal justice classes at Columbia College-Los Alamitos.
“I find that talking about my personal experiences helps students understand the practical applications of what they’re learning,” he says. “I put a regular-guy spin on it. I’ll often say, ‘Here’s what the book is trying to tell you, and here’s how it applies in real life.’”
A calling to serve
Wintersole says he always knew he wanted to be in law enforcement. Growing up in California, he and a friend talked about becoming police officers. “I wanted to help the community, particularly those who couldn’t help themselves,” he says.
After high school, he served in the U.S. Army with deployments during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991. He was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the Southwest Asia Service Medal and the Kuwait Liberation Medal.
After four years of service, Wintersole was honorably discharged from the Army. He then served as deputy sheriff with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department before moving to Cypress, California.
During his time in the Cypress Police Department, Wintersole served in a variety of roles, including gang/narcotics officer, detective, lead police officer, field training officer, personnel and training officer, acting sergeant, patrol sergeant, and traffic bureau supervisor.
Working in narcotics became a particular area of interest. As a special investigator, he was responsible for providing gang intelligence and working undercover to conduct narcotics investigations.
“I felt a calling to be there for victims of crime who are minding their own business and have something happen beyond their control.”Sgt. Michael Wintersole ’15 ’18
“I felt a calling to be there for victims of crime who are minding their own business and have something happen beyond their control,” he says. “While it was rewarding to work in all areas of law enforcement, it was especially important to me to be able to reach out to those who are suffering from violence.”
In 2008, Wintersole received the Officer of the Year Award from the Cypress Police Officers Association. The award is given to an officer chosen by their peers.
“It was a really humbling acknowledgement to be recognized by people who do the same thing that you do every day and know the time and effort that’s put in,” he says.
A new role at CC
At the beginning of 2012, Wintersole and his wife, Melissa, both made a New Year’s resolution — to get their college degrees. Both of them decided to pursue their degrees at Columbia College.
While registering at Columbia College-Los Alamitos, the Wintersoles met Carl David, director of the campus.
“He was so happy and excited to have both of us there,” Wintersole says. “He was so supportive of us going through the process. He was always there for us, answering any questions that we had along the way.”
Wintersole says his favorite part of attending Columbia College was learning the other students’ perspectives. “Because I was already in law enforcement, and most of my classmates weren’t, it was helpful to hear an outside perspective on law enforcement,” he says. “Also, we met a lot of really great people, some of whom Melissa and I keep in contact with to this day.”
Wintersole graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice Administration. Afterward, it was David who gave him the inspiration to also pursue his Master of Science in Criminal Justice.
“After I got my bachelor’s degree, I asked him if I got my master’s degree, would he hire me?” says Wintersole. “He said, ‘Absolutely.’”
After Wintersole received his master’s from Columbia College in 2018, he became an adjunct professor for the college. In addition to teaching classes, he also serves as a mentor for students who have internships in the criminal justice field.
“I always have open conversations in class about my work with the police department,” he says. “Especially now, when there are a lot of differing views of the police, I think it’s important to encourage any questions they have and open up that dialogue.”