Minnesota Colleges See Fewer Students Seeking Law Enforcement Certifications



As a criminal justice instructor at St. Cloud State University, Shawn Williams has seen the number of students earning law enforcement skills certificates decline in recent years – from 121 in 2015 to 82 in 2020 The program granted 73 such certificates in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our numbers have gone down like everyone else, and, no, I don’t know why,” Williams said, although he cited a host of probable factors: the cost of higher education, poor recruitment and, of course, civil society. unrest caused by police murders, including that of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020.


Shawn williams

“Clearly and simply, I think some families are afraid of public service,” he said. “But we can only guess.”

In Minnesota, students who want to become a police officer must first earn a two- or four-year law enforcement degree and then pass a skills certification course. Only then are they qualified to apply for jobs. So any change in the number of students taking these programs is of concern, especially at a time when law enforcement agencies are reporting hiring issues.

“The good students”

Alexandria Technical & Community College, which has one of the largest law enforcement programs in the Minnesota state college and university system, has seen a steady decline in the number of students who graduated to both law enforcement degrees and skills certificates (some community colleges offer both) in recent years.

In 2015, the school issued 155 competence certificates. In 2020, that number was 117 (he assigned 112 in 2019, before the pandemic). Interestingly, the number of annual applications to the school’s law enforcement program has remained fairly stable since 2015, although the number of annual enrollments has declined.

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“Our problem is getting the right students into the program so that they can eventually be hired,” said Scott Berger, the school’s vice president of academic affairs and dean of the law enforcement program. “It’s a tough sale because law enforcement is being looked at through an extremely critical lens right now. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Some Minnesota police departments are receiving fewer applicants than before when they posted officer positions, Berger said. “What we’ve heard from agencies is that when looking to hire, the pool of applicants is maybe a dozen to two dozen applicants when at the peak it was maybe 100. at 200, “he said.

He also doesn’t see a bright future anytime soon, adding, “For students who want to get into law enforcement, a high school counselor will ask, ‘Why would you want to do it now? Why not wait a few years until things work out? “

Dealing with attrition

Jim Mortenson, executive director of Law Enforcement Labor Services, a union that represents police, firefighters, 911 dispatchers, correctional officers and public safety support staff, collected data on graduates of skills programs under the law of most colleges in Minnesota and believes the numbers represent a “significant trend.”

In addition to declines at St. Cloud State and Alexandria College, for example, the state of Minnesota, Moorhead, had 70 skills graduates in 2015 and 31 in 2020, while the state of Minnesota, Mankato, had 113 graduates in skills in 2015 and 67 in 2020. The University of Minnesota’s Crookston campus, meanwhile, has seen a slight decline in the number of graduates from its law enforcement program (it does not offer skills certificates ), from 15 in 2015 to 11 in 2020.

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Granted, some schools have remained stable or experienced increases, such as Minnesota West Community & Technical College, which had 12 graduates in 2015 and 16 in 2020, and Hennepin Technical College, which had 174 graduates in 2015 and 208 in 2020. . (All enrollment figures mentioned in this article have been independently confirmed by MinnPost.)

But Mortenson remains worried.

Jim mortenson

Jim mortenson

“It really started with Ferguson,” he said, using the abbreviated term to refer to the police murder of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 – an incident that sparked unrest and called police reform. “We call it the ‘Ferguson effect’. That’s when politics started attacking law enforcement and changed the narrative. “

Mortenson worked as an officer for 32 years at St. Cloud but was unable to convince his son to enter law enforcement. “These are decent jobs,” he said. “They offer good security, benefits and pensions, but they don’t pay enough to take the kind of blows that officers take today.”

One of the results, Mortenson said, is that law enforcement agencies end up hiring people who would not have been seriously considered just a few years ago. According to his organization, the State Patrol and the Minneapolis and St. Paul Police Departments alone need about 400 officers to be fully staffed. “We just can’t keep up with normal attrition,” he said.

“More difficult to recommend”

In November, residents of Minneapolis – where Floyd’s murder galvanized the police reform movement – will vote on a referendum asking whether the city should replace its police department with a Department of Public Safety. The new department would take a “comprehensive public health approach” to public safety, as the proposal reads, and “could include police officers.”

While this development dominated the news, police departments in Minnesota faced their own staffing challenges. In Willmar, for example, 26 people applied for three police positions earlier this year, Police Chief Jim Felt said. While that was enough to find qualified candidates for hire, it was a paltry sum compared to the roughly 200 candidates who applied for an officer position in 1990, the year Felt joined the Willmar force.

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The number of applicants has tightened enough in recent years that the department has sent a representative to a law enforcement trade fair at Alexandria College; it was the first time Felt had remembered the ministry doing this. The agency is also looking for ways to make better use of social media and has spoken with the local police union about increasing salaries for veteran officers who take jobs in the Willmar force.

“A number of students still have a desire to serve the public, but now maybe they are looking at other avenues,” he said. “I think it’s still a very rewarding career. Glad I did and honored to be able to serve, but it’s getting harder and harder to recommend it as a career.

The Willmar Police Department currently has a full complement of 35 officers – the maximum number authorized by City Council. About half of them graduated from Ridgewater College’s law enforcement program, the local two-year school. The agency also has 10 part-time support workers, Felt said, including six Ridgewater students who work in areas such as animal control and parking enforcement.



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