It’s pretty hard to fit award-winning investigative reporter Caroline Lowe into any box. She not only covers the crime beat for WCCO 4 News but also studies the criminal justice system and works to prevent crime.

A student in the St. Thomas Master of Arts in Police Leadership, Administration and Education program, she will graduate in 2004. Lowe, who chose the program because of its good reputation and cohort approach, wanted to “continue to improve my grasp of the criminal justice system. It gave me the chance to network and learn with about 30 officers from a variety of local police departments.” She believes the program’s emphasis on critical thinking will improve her skills as a reporter and may eventually lead to teaching on a university level.

A reporter since 1981 (she joined WCCO in 1977 as a newsroom clerk), she did not get her college degree until 2002, when she graduated from Metropolitan State University with a bachelor’s in law enforcement. Lowe, who originally planned a “career track on Capitol Hill,” found reporting so rewarding that it led her back to finish her college degree.

She took a short leave from her job as investigative reporter to “walk the beat” as a cop for two weeks at this year’s Minnesota State Fair and thus became eligible to be licensed as a police officer.

“This was one of the most terrific learning experiences of my life,” she said. “It was rewarding to help people who had lost a child or had a medical emergency or needed directions and invaluable to see the public’s reaction to someone in uniform.” Some media saw Lowe‘s walking a beat as a conflict of interest. “I anticipated the criticism and decided the benefits of the insight and experience from becoming a cop on a very limited basis was worth the minimal risks involved,” she said. “I will never cover any State Fair stories nor will I report on any officers who I worked with at the fair.”

Lowe has taught classes on the police and the media to future law enforcement officers at the Center for Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement in St. Paul. “When I was a new reporter, I grew more interested in the often controversial issues involving law enforcement and criminal justice. I also was fascinated by the evolution of forensic sciences, such as DNA,” she said.

Lowe finds her job “most rewarding when working on a long-term story such as covering ongoing murder investigations like the abduction of Katie Poirer from a Moose Lake convenience store four years ago. Nothing is more satisfying than doing a story that helps a victim or leads to positive change in the system.

“For example, a story I did on an abducted Iowa anchorwoman, Jodi Huisentruit, and a possible connection to a Twin Cities rapist led police to an unsolved rape in Iowa. After DNA testing on the suspect who was the focus of our story, the case was solved. Another investigation of some Minneapolis police officers who were not doing their jobs on the downtown foot patrol led to an overhaul of that unit.” Lowe also has created a crime prevention feature at WCCO known as “Crime Tracker 4.”

She feels the public respects police officers and is impressed with police community programs that work with children and teens “before they get on a negative track.”

She helped create a reading program for children visiting their parents at the Hennepin County Jail. Organized with the help of volunteers from St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Minneapolis, “The Treehouse” offers books to children of inmates.

“I was struck by the number of parents in jail who couldn’t read,” she said, “and saw this as one area which needs much improvement if we as a society are ever going to reduce the number of children who follow in their parents’ footsteps. I do think a lack of hope is a major contributor to people choosing criminal paths.” Lowe also has furnished a private waiting room at Minneapolis police headquarters for child abuse and sexual assault victims.

Winner of the prestigious Alfred I. DuPont Columbia Award and two Regional Emmy Awards, Lowe also received the Minnesota Association of Victims Media Attention Service Award in 1986, the first ever awarded to a newsperson. She and her family live in the Twin Cities.