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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Minnesota's Police Hiring Process Must Evolve

This editorial was printed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Duluth News-Tribune this week.

Police chiefs' view: Open up the police recruitment process

An August newspaper article in the Twin Cities focused on an issue we have been working to improve for several years. Simply stated, the “funnel” from which we must hire police officers is broken. And it is time for our system to evolve to meet the needs of our cities.
In the late 1970s, Minnesota led the nation when it came to police officer education and standards. This state was one of the first to create a regulatory agency, called the Police Officers Standards and Training, or POST. Today, POST is overseen by an executive director and a board of 15 individuals who represent higher education, chiefs, sheriffs, officers, elected officials and community members. In addition to ensuring departments meet policy, education and training standards, POST also mandates that candidates to be police officers have a minimum of a two-year degree in law enforcement or criminal justice from a POST-accredited school.

Despite strong recruitment efforts and POST’s best intentions, we are not seeing two types of applicants that are crucial to our community policing efforts. First, the number of applicants from culturally diverse backgrounds is very low because our process for becoming a police officer has not evolved with our needs. Second, we lack candidates with significant life experience and maturity, or what we call “second-career candidates.” Second-career candidates are those who have worked in other professions, who have seen things through a different lens, and who bring empathy and compassion through personal experience. That’s something that cannot be taught yet is a critical attribute in our police officers.

Most Minnesota chiefs know people with significant life and educational experience who would like to become police officers and would make excellent ones but who simply cannot afford to quit their jobs to attend additional schooling and an academy on their own time and dime. The very life experience and diversity we are looking for is systematically filtered out of the police process because of financial costs and time commitments.

For instance, a single working mom (who may still be paying back student loans) cannot quit her job for a year to go back to school and attend the police skills academy, as required by POST.
Although our state’s standards for educating and training police officers remain high, to our knowledge, Minnesota is the only state in our nation that imposes such limitations on hiring.

In the end, we need to make it more attractive for anyone other than those who choose a traditional police education route to enter law enforcement, thus substantially increasing our pool of candidates.
Our two departments run their own police academies and will be seeking approval to hire people with any college degree and train them to the POST standards. We believe this will expand our hiring pool and maintain the professionalism of our state’s police officers that POST established nearly 40 years ago. We also believe it will ensure our communities are served by the brightest, most diverse people who represent the communities we serve.

Gordon Ramsay is Duluth’s police chief. Janee Harteau is the Minneapolis police chief.

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