Duchschere, 26, has worked as a Columbia Heights community service officer part time to get her foot in the door. She starts her new job early this year pending background and health assessments.
“My biggest tool will be my ability to communicate with people — be smart and quick on my feet,” she said.
In Edina, Chief Jeff Long said, “We are not just hiring people who want to drive fast and make arrests. We are hiring people who want to get out in the community and participate. We really focus on candidates who have prior life experience coming in.”
Some of Long’s recent hires include two Target corporate employees and a YMCA executive. Many of these professionals are taking pay cuts to go into policing, he said.
Long, who will become Lakeville’s police chief this month, said that hiring practices started to change about a decade ago but that there’s been a big push in the last five years. It’s easy to be selective. His department had 400 applicants for their last job opening.
More education also coincides with greater expectations for police from residents and city officials. Two years ago, for example, Edina police started overseeing the city’s community health department, which handles pool inspections and hoarding investigations, Long said.
“That is the trend in law enforcement. People have that expectation that it’s not just cops showing up. It’s an entry into the social services arena,” Long said. “We want to do more social work when we are on the street. We call an advocacy agency every time we go in on a suspected domestic abuse case.”
Even conventional police work takes more education.
“You used to do a photo lineup, get the guy ID’d and you were done,” Long said. “Now you need DNA, a forensic trail, video and accounting.”
Burnsville Police started requiring a four-year degree in 1969. They relaxed the policy briefly in the late 1980s because of a thin candidate pool, but Chief Eric Gieseke said he firmly enforces it today.
“The community wants a professional agency and they expect us to be highly trained and highly educated,” Gieseke said. “The job has become more complex. You introduce technology. The laws are ever-changing and expectations in the community have not declined.”
Gieseke said larger urban departments, which hire more officers, may not have the luxury of considering only candidates with four-year degrees.
The Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST Board, licenses officers. Its executive director, Neil Melton, said the board doesn’t track the number of officers with two-year versus four-year degrees but said the trend in some departments is to hire and promote officers with more education.
Debate about what’s needed
There is a back-and-forth in the law enforcement community about what qualifications predict a good officer. Maple Grove Police Chief David Jess said he values education but doesn’t require a four-year degree.
“I like to leave it open because there are plenty of people with two-year degrees that are good police officers,” he said.
Jess said he’s found experience to be a better indicator of success than education alone. He favors a candidate who has worked as a reserve officer or in a smaller department. He recalls once interviewing a highly educated candidate with no law enforcement experience who said his goal was to become the department’s forensic psychologist — a position that doesn’t exist.