Minneapolis made a significant financial investment in Mohamed Noor.

The officer who fatally shot Justine Damond graduated in 2015 from the city's accelerated police cadet program. The seven-month training is a quicker, nontraditional route to policing aimed at helping those who already have a college degree enter law enforcement.

The Minneapolis program covers tuition at Hennepin Technical College and pays trainees a $20-an-hour salary with benefits while they work to get licensed. After that their salary bumps up.

More than a year into the job, Noor, 31, rose from a beat cop's obscurity to international headlines after shooting Damond, a 40-year-old spiritual healer from Australia, after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her southwest Minneapolis home. When she approached the driver's side window of the squad car, Noor, who was in the passenger seat, fired across his partner in the driver's seat, killing Damond.

Since then the MPD has been dogged by questions about Noor's experience and training. On the night of the shooting, he was paired with officer Matthew Harrity, who had been a cop for about one year.

Some law enforcement professionals say the cadet program and others like it are exactly what policing needs — a way to attract more diverse people with broader life experiences. The average age of the more than two dozen aspiring officers in Noor's cadet class was around 30. It included a former firefighter pushing age 50.

Before heading into law enforcement, Noor worked in commercial and residential property management and managed a hotel. He has a degree in business administration, management and economics from Augsburg College.

Former police chief Janeé Harteau, who resigned late Friday, stood by Noor's training last week.

"We have a very robust training and hiring process," Harteau told reporters at a news conference on Thursday. "This officer completed that training very well, just like every officer. He was very suited to be on the street."

Not everyone is sold on the fast-track training. In Minnesota, the more traditional route to a job as a peace officer includes a two- or four-year degree in criminal justice or a related field. The state is unique in its educational requirement for officers, although Wisconsin has a similar requirement.

James Densley, who teaches criminal justice at Metropolitan State University, said he thinks too many cadet programs are "all tactics and no strategy," overemphasizing assessing threats and conducting tactical protocols.

"The cadet program is rigorous, no doubt, but it is also an immersive paramilitary experience, taught by practitioner faculty without advanced degrees, and I suspect it leaves students with a limited view of the profession," Densley said.

Critics of police training across the United States have called it long on command and control and short on instructing common sense approaches to slowing down confrontations and defusing hostile situations.

Nontraditional routes

The Minneapolis Police Department has struggled in recent years with a shrinking pool of applicants for job openings. A pension change that spurred a wave of retirements among peace officers statewide in 2014 dropped the Minneapolis police ranks to their lowest total in nearly 30 years, and the department was faced with hiring nearly 100 officers. It currently has about 872 sworn officers. This year the city of Minneapolis appropriated $1 million for training cadets, as well as a couple of dozen recruits with police backgrounds.

An MPD spokeswoman said the agency does not rely more heavily on its well-established cadet program for hiring. The program is simply "another pathway" to attract candidates. Some suburban police departments see the cadet programs as a way to add diversity to their police forces.

Kellie McElroy Hooper, dean of workforce education at Hennepin Technical College, said the school runs the academic portion of the MPD's cadet program in Brooklyn Park under a contract with the city of Minneapolis. The MPD cadet class runs for 18 weeks, 40 hours a week, and contains the same content as the longer two-semester program plus the needed prerequisite courses.

The school runs similar cadet programs for the Department of Natural Resources and the State Patrol.

Expanding on the idea, a number of suburban police departments including St. Louis Park and Bloomington, have started their own cadet programs called Pathways to Policing, which will also be taught at Hennepin Technical College.

Nate Gove, head of the state Peace Officer Standards and Training Board (POST Board), which controls police training and sets learning objectives for the schools, said the nontraditional routes are no less rigorous in Minnesota than the traditional ones. The learning objectives are the same, he said, and include teaching and modeling de-escalation techniques.

"They still have to meet the learning objectives before they get signed off to take the exam," Gove said. "There's not some difference in that."

The POST Board's Peace Officer Licensing Examination includes 275 questions and takes about two to three hours to complete.

After the academic portion of the program, cadets head off to MPD's police academy, which covers everything from physical training to writing reports, community policing and defensive driving.

Upon graduation new officers are then on probation for one year, half of which is spent in the department's six-month field training program, where they are watched by a senior officer.

When asked on Thursday whether Noor did well in his field training, Harteau said, "He absolutely did."

"We have a very robust field training officer program which, I've been told by the training officers, he did well," Harteau said. "There was no indication there would be any issues."

Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683