More chiefs looking for four-year degrees, people skills and critical thinking.
Jackie Duchschere started her career in the unsparing world of politics after earning her bachelor’s degree. In her work at a state agency, her problem-solving and people skills were tested almost daily.
She’ll now plug those skills into her new job as a Columbia Heights police officer.
Being an officer these days is as much about brains as it is about brawn as more suburban police chiefs seek out job candidates with four-year degrees and previous professional experience, often in outside fields, including teaching, political science and corporate America.
Minnesota has long led the nation in peace officer standards; it’s the only state to require a two-year degree and licensing. Now, a four-year degree is becoming a more common standard for entry into departments including Columbia Heights, Edina and Burnsville. Many other departments require a four-year degree for promotion.
It’s not a rapid-fire change, but rather an evolution sped up by high unemployment that deepened the candidate pool and gave chiefs more choices. Officer pay and benefits can attract four-year candidates. Edina pays top-level officers $80,000; Columbia Heights pays nearly $75,000.
Nowadays, officers are expected to juggle a variety of tasks and that takes more education, chiefs said. Officers communicate with the public, solve problems, navigate different cultures, use computers, radios and other technology while on the move, and make split-second decisions about use of force with a variety of high-tech tools on their belt. And many of those decisions are recorded by squad car dashboard cameras, officer body cameras and even bystanders with smartphones.
Those higher community expectations and scrutiny are why Columbia Heights Police Chief Scott Nadeau said hiring officers with a four-year degree and some life experience is a top priority.
Still, there is healthy debate in law enforcement, with some chiefs favoring direct experience over pedigree.
Along with Duchschere, Nadeau recently hired a former schoolteacher with a master’s degree. He also has hired one officer who will finish his bachelor’s in business administration next year.
“Officers with education seem to do better with problem solving,” Nadeau said. “You need that breadth of knowledge. You need to know what is the difference between an immigrant and a refugee.”
That’s different from when Nadeau was hired, when chiefs literally sized candidates up, favoring those over 6 feet tall with broad shoulders.
In his inner-ring suburb of 20,000 made up of 16 percent foreign-born, officers are more likely to encounter a confused senior citizen than an armed gunman. During his career in Brooklyn Center and Columbia Heights, Nadeau says he has never had to discharge his gun, but he’s faced some rapid-fire questions from immigrant groups about racial profiling and from residents irked at efforts to stop jaywalking across Central Avenue.
The community problem-solving role for police warrants more education, Nadeau said.
“Officers need to fully understand the problem, provide a thoughtful analysis of alternatives, research best practices and assemble a plan that includes multiple stakeholders and leverages community resources to reduce or eliminate the problem,” he said.
A changing mold
Although her father is an Eden Prairie policeman, Jackie Duchschere says that for a long time “I just had the wrong idea of what you needed to be to be a police officer.” She is 5-foot-4 and describes herself as a bit of a “girlie” girl.
“Even though my dad isn’t this big macho guy, I was completely thinking about the physical aspects of it and I didn’t fit the mold.”