Instead, the remodeled 8,000-square-foot skills training facility, which also features a large padded room, a video simulator and a designated crime lab, is designed to teach aspiring police officers how to do the things they’ll have to do once they’re on the streets, and how to deal with and defuse situations they might encounter.
It also offers local police departments a place to refresh their use-of-force training, a yearly requirement, free of charge.
“When Rasmussen looked at building this facility, they wanted to fulfill the students’ needs, obviously, but at the same time they wanted to keep the community connection and partnerships they’ve had over the years by building a facility that not only the students could use but local law enforcement as well,” said Mike Ardolf, a sworn officer for 24 years and coordinator of Rasmussen’s skills program.
Students, both traditional and nontraditional — recent high school graduates, military veterans or those seeking a second career — respond to real-life scenarios with role players. In the fully furnished apartment, they might be called to a domestic disturbance or have to take a report of an auto theft. At the grocery store, it might be a shoplifter, someone with counterfeit money or an emotionally disturbed customer. At the bar, it might be a customer fussing when he or she is cut off. At the bank, it might be a robbery.
They learn what to ask and when to ask it. At first, an instructor is with each student. Later, the student goes it alone.
In the padded room, skills such as the use-of-force continuum, Tasers, handcuffing, hand-to-hand combat and other physically dangerous components of law enforcement are taught. In the crime lab, they learn fingerprinting, how to gather evidence and how to process a crime scene. In the video simulator, there are hundreds of scenarios, such as shoot/don’t shoot drills. Students must complete a minimum of 20 different scenarios before they are eligible to take the licensing exam.
An open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony were held at the Eagan facility Wednesday, although some parts of it have been in use since last fall. Rasmussen still must conduct firearms training with live ammunition at the SCALE (Scott County Association of Leadership and Efficiency) facility in Jordan, but it had to conduct all of its skills training there before opening the new Eagan facility.
“I really believe, based on my experience as a training officer and a police officer, that having students experience reality-based or scenario-based training is critical,” said Matt Petz, vice president of academic affairs who has been a sworn officer since 1996.
“This is how you apply your coursework. This is how you apply it out in the real world … No matter how much you talk about it, it’s not the same as drawing your gun. We want them to feel those feelings.”
The college, with eight Minnesota locations, is the first private college approved by the Minnesota Board of Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) to run a skills program. It is one of only two colleges in the Twin Cities area to offer skills training; the other is at Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park.
Rasmussen operates two- and four-year degree programs in law enforcement. It also offers a certification program for students who have a degree from another institution. Twenty-four students are accepted into the skills program each quarter. Completing it takes two quarters — about six months. Students attend one night a week, Friday night, and all day Saturday. Applications are now being accepted for the term that begins in April.
Other programs, at Hibbing Community College and Alexandria Technical College, offer skills training only once a year, in the summer, making it more difficult for nontraditional students with a job and family to fit it into their schedule.
Training new police officers is vital, Ardolf and Petz said, because large numbers of officers around the state are expected to retire before pension changes go into effect July 1.
There are approximately 10,300 active officers in Minnesota. About 1,700 are eligible to retire before July 1, said Neil Melton, executive director of the POST board.
“Certainly not all are going to take advantage of that,” Melton said. “It will affect some agencies more than others.”
The good news: About 1,000 people pass the licensing exam each year, and there are about 2,500 people eligible to be hired, he said.