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It’s time to rethink Minnesota’s system of police education and training

REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Police training perpetuates the 1990s “warrior” culture of policing that paints police officers as soldiers at “war” with crime, drugs, and criminal gangs.

Anger and protests over the death of Philando Castile in police custody have sparked yet another re-evaluation of policing in Minnesota. As a criminal justice professor who a) literally (co-)wrote the book on Minnesota’s criminal justice system and who b) teaches in one of the state’s Professional Peace Officer Education programs (PPOE), I’ve done this dance before. I’m tired. Only legislative action on the Minnesota model of police officer education can save us from more bullets and bloodshed.

densley photo
James Densley

Minnesota is the only state in the nation that tasks colleges and universities, not police academies, with police officer education and training. To become eligible for a Minnesota Peace Officer License, one must earn at least a two-year degree from a regionally accredited college or university and successfully complete a PPOE program from one of approximately 30 colleges and universities certified by the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). On paper this sounds great. Indeed, it guarantees Minnesota has the most educated officers in the nation. The problem is, they are getting a bad education.

The first rule of law enforcement is to go home at the end of your shift. The key principle is officer survival. PPOE, taught disproportionately by retired cops, is designed to promote this. But it ends up endangering civilians rather than protecting them.

A curious approach to recruitment

It starts with high-school career fairs and police recruitment videos that show the “sexy” side of the law enforcement — officers dressed in hard body armor crashing through doors at dawn, fast-roping from helicopters, taming riots, and shooting their way out of trouble. This is especially curious given most officers go their entire careers without firing their weapons. But the image attracts a particular type of candidate. PPOE schools then further entrench this by teaching officers to be afraid; telling them that policing is an incredibly dangerous profession.

The fact is policing is not especially dangerous, compared to say, work in logging or construction, or driving a taxi, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since the 2000s, crime has declined and with it the risk of line of duty deaths. Indeed, police officers are many times more likely to commit suicide than to be killed by a criminal. But instructors teach what they know (or were themselves taught), perpetuating the 1990s “warrior” culture of policing that paints police officers as soldiers at “war” with crime, drugs, and criminal gangs. This, in turn, contributes to implicit biases that associate danger with young black men and reinforce the myth of the “righteous kill,” thus shootings that were most likely avoidable.

Officers are conditioned to view every encounter as a potential deadly force incident. Admittedly, it’s a reasonable expectation in a conceal carry state like Minnesota. Not every Minnesotan is armed, but potentially they are. Likewise, not every Minnesotan is dangerous, but because they’re potentially armed, or, in the tragic case of Philando Castile, definitely armed, it’s better to be safe than sorry. In this context, treating everyone with fairness and respect (what criminologists call “procedural justice”) comes second to putting hands in pockets or pulling the trigger. PPOE students complete about 50 hours of firearms training on average but only five hours of de-escalation conflict resolution training, most of which is classroom-based and focuses on the “letter of the law,” not the nuances of mental illness and other concerns.

Dallas is an anomaly

Critics will point to the appalling events in Dallas on Thursday, where five police officers were killed and seven wounded by snipers, as evidence that policing really is a matter of life or death. They’ll paint me as part of the problem. But Dallas is an anomaly, proof perfect that the breakdown in public trust and police legitimacy has catastrophic consequences. When cops continue to be found working “within the law” but in ways far removed from community expectations, violence, for some, becomes an attractive alternative to official or bureaucratic state means of action. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

Deadly force myopia means law-enforcement programs are expensive to run (bullets cost money), thus PPOE schools need large numbers of full-time equivalent (FTE) students in their classes in order to continue to offer them. Most PPOE programs are housed in open-access colleges and universities that service anyone and everyone. The problem, of course, is not anyone can protect and serve and certainly not everyone will be good at it. Unless a student has a disqualifier that would clearly prevent him or her from being a peace officer, however, there is nothing a PPOE school can do to stop the person enrolling in the program. They can advise students against it, but not bar them outright, for to do so would violate a school’s anti-discrimination policy. Such explains why less than half of all PPOE graduates actually get a police job in the state. College gets you license-eligible (for a fee!). Police agencies control who gets licensed.

License eligibility is no indicator of quality

Since all law-enforcement graduates have invested two to four years minimum into becoming a cop, at an estimated cost of anywhere from $15,000 to $100,000, depending on the school, there can be no question they are objectively qualified for and committed to the profession before they enter it. But license eligibility, the true outcome of PPOE, is no indicator of quality. Graduates all look, sound, and think the same, chiefs tell me. The process intended to separate high-quality law-enforcement graduates from their low-quality counterparts is actually pooling them because a) law-enforcement degrees provide a pretty narrow workforce preparation and b) the high financial and opportunity costs associated with PPOE compared to traditional police academies dissuade diverse or “second-career candidates” from taking the plunge.

It’s time to rethink our system of police education and training. You would think that after 40 years, if our one-of-a-kind system was so good, other states might have adopted it. But no, Minnesota is alone in this experiment. The lack of racial and ethnic diversity in Minnesota law enforcement and the continued deaths of black men in police custody suggest the experiment has failed.

 James Densley, Ph.D., is an associate professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University and author of “Minnesota’s Criminal Justice System” (Carolina Academic Press, 2016). He holds a doctorate in sociology from the University of Oxford.

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Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 07/11/2016 - 10:32 am.

    Generally a good story

    But the author ignores a couple of important points:

    1. Cops use deadly force about .00028 percent of the time. If he wants to paint Dallas as an anomaly, then he should admit his cops = warriors stance is an anomaly was well.

    2. My recollection is the militarization of police forces came as a result of (a) the 9/11 attacks and (b) the increasing fire power of the citizenry,

  2. Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 07/11/2016 - 10:39 am.

    Poorly conceived, written, organized, presented …

    An article full of off-the-cuff statements, personal opinions, no data… and no point. My initial suggestion, especially since the author has “done this dance before” and is “tired,” is that the author sit out and let someone with energy and forward-moving suggestions take over. A leader.

    For starters, the author writes Minnesota has “the most educated officers in the nation.” And this is bad? How? How do we compare with other states, other cities? In reality, we compare very well… a fact.

    The author writes “policing is not especially dangerous, compared to say, work in logging or construction, or driving a taxi…” Perhaps that speaks to the training of our over-educated officers?

    By far the author’s lowest blow, that “Dallas is an anomaly,” is a slap in the face to all Peace Officers, Minnesota and nationwide. Dallas was the deadliest single incident for law enforcement since 9/11/01. Officers were killed in the line of duty. Unfortunately, not an anomaly.

    The entire article is so scattered, I wonder why it was even printed. In a thousand words, the author addresses the ‘anomaly’ of the Dallas shootings, Philando Castile, training, over-training, admittance to PPOE schools, graduates of PPOE schools, his ‘extensive’ background, that he is tired, racial bias, recruitment, police work not being dangerous, and then wraps a conclusion in a nice bow with “racial and ethnic diversity.” How bout data, actual comparisons to something that “works?”

    Nowhere in the article are positive words used to describe our police force, and nowhere does the author give direction to what could be done… examples or success stories. Things are changing and things will change, but not from scattered writings.

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 07/11/2016 - 09:32 pm.

      Rather, a poor review….

      I’m not going to judge the article, but this review is bad.

      1. “the most educated officers in the nation.” — The author clearly explains that police officers are well qualified, but questions those doing the training and the type of training to achieve those qualifications.

      2. ““policing is not especially dangerous, compared to say, work in logging or construction, ….”Perhaps that speaks to the training of our over-educated officers?” – If that fact is going to be challenged, provide a counter statistic from research that provides such correlation. Else that statistic has been well publicized.

      3 “Dallas is an anomaly,” – Not sure how that is a low blow. We don’t have (thankfully) planned terrorist attacks on police officers. So i’m not sure why that statement is so horrible.

      One may disagree with the suggestions offered base perhaps on ones on biases, but that doesn’t make them badly written.

    • Submitted by Mark Bliven on 07/18/2016 - 09:46 am.

      Police Training

      The concerns in the article may be valid but the essence of the article seems to be that the higher education system is not the place to educate peace officers. I would think that more involvement of the educational system is necessary if those issues are to be addressed. The simplistic concept that a police academy would address his concerns about Minnesota’s educational system for peace officers is rather odd. Expense in the educational system is absolutely a valid concern but applies to every profession and not just policing. I sense a degree of distaste of educational involvement in policing by the author. If not at this stage then when are we going to get our officers involved in policing as a profession rather than a vocation that simply focuses on shooting guns, use of force, and driving fast? Yes, a police academy can be a place of broad education on community relations, de-escalation processes, and the wide gamut of issues addressed by those entrusted with keeping the peace but why are those same issues not able to be addressed by higher education institutions? Additionally where is his evidence that Minnesota does a poorer job of educating peace officers than those states with academies? I expect that his follow-up piece will outline valid issues of training but no evidence that provision by an academy is the best system except from an overall cost perspective. Who pays for it and who sets the curriculum are the big questions. Those issues plague every program. Throwing up his hands in frustration doesn’t seem to be a worthwhile strategy. Addressing the issues in his program would seem to be a better approach. He could then use it as an example of how to provide the education.

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/11/2016 - 11:25 am.

    A couple of comments:The two

    A couple of comments:

    The two officers who did the stop in Falcon Heights were the top of the class they graduated with. Does this mean they were just anyone that showed up for class, day after day? Or did it all come down to a gut-reaction in a second by an inexperienced officer ? And if police rarely draw their gun, who provides them in college or in a police academy with a mental check list to run through in that second ? And how do you verify that someone will use that check list in that moment ?

    The officer who shot the driver is a Latino. Did he not represent a diversity that police forces need ?

    And, by the way, is it true to say that the Dallas incident represents a break-down in public trust and police legitimacy ? The more you read about the shooter, the more it seems like a mental health incident where the shooter was driven to act by the inflammatory rhetoric flying around in the wake of the two shootings.

  4. Submitted by Jon Lord on 07/11/2016 - 12:47 pm.

    point is…

    If we allow ‘a few’ offices to commit actions that reflect badly on the police to get away with doing it, it just might inspire others to do the same. It’s one thing to be well educated by a couple classes in a two year college and being well educated in how to handle the public when the office is unduly frightened.

    To say that just a few officers killed people when they surely didn’t have to is okay is in my view dangerous to the public at large especially those of color (even when the police themselves may be ‘of color’).

    Many years ago (’70’s) when a bunch of us were standing around in the park across from the school on the day before spring break began talking about where we should party when a bunch of guys (4) who had been playing softball suddenly came up to us with baseball bats in their hands saying one of us threw a joint on the ground. It was a cigarette but it was littering to be sure and we offered to pick it up. They threatened us and told us we’d better move on or they just might jail us. We did have long hair and beards too, at least those of us who could grow beards. They were officers in training taking classes at the same college. Ironically one of our friends was taking the same classes they were for the same reason. These 4 officers in training were looking for trouble where there was none. They are the ones who turn people against their actions and will end up shooting someone, particularly someone of color, for no good reason.

    Like it or not, there are good cops and bad cops. Protecting a few bad cops for the sake of the good cops is a horrible policy and it will not lead to anything good. Having body camera’s ‘that can not be taken off and not given the video to the police to go over it first’ is for the protection of the good cops as well as the population at large. Not so much for the bad cops though.

    Here is a good cop; I walked into an SA to pay for gas one day and several policemen had arrived because someone had driven off without paying. The cashier was telling them that she had kicked her son out of the house because he didn’t have a job and she felt he would be the type to drive off without paying too. One of the policeman just looked at her and said “So…you just turned your problem over to us to deal with instead of you helping him!”

  5. Submitted by Alan Muller on 07/11/2016 - 01:42 pm.

    So what do we do?

    This article would be more useful with some proposals about what to do.

  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/11/2016 - 01:49 pm.

    A couple of (possibly minor) points.

    First of all, I have problems with the way police talk about themselves vs. civilians.
    This is the language of an occupying army. The police are themselves civilians; they are subject to the same civil law code as the rest of us.
    The military, on the other hand, is not. They are governed by the military law code, which differs from the civil code, so there is a real distinction between members of the military and civilians.
    A second point:
    Minnesota police officers may be trained on college campuses; they do not necessarily have college educations (this is based on 40 years as a Psych professor at MSU Mankato). I worked with members of the law enforcement faculty and occasionally had their students in my classes.
    As the author points out, LE faculty are mostly former police officers without the kind of academic background that most college faculty have.
    If we want police officers who are college educated, rather than just educated at colleges, we should require them to get BA degrees with the same general education requirements as other students, and a major in Law Enforcement. If more training is needed, they might go on to a Master’s degree, the way many teachers do.
    To justify this investment on the part of would be Police officers, we would have to raise their pay, and also subsidize their educations. Just a modest proposal.

    • Submitted by Jon Lord on 07/12/2016 - 07:16 pm.

      thanks for mentioning these points

      I totally agree with both points. The police express themselves as if they are different from us, not a part of us. I think drilling that idea into the heads of policemen will cause, or can cause most police to be in a state of heightened fear when there is no cause for it. It can also cause them to treat us as being beneath them. That they are ‘better’ than us generally.

      My experience in a college where the police were taking classes, they only appeared in a few actual college courses. It also appeared that they did not like being there. Some tended to be very argumentative in class.

  7. Submitted by Jill Zahniser on 07/11/2016 - 02:06 pm.

    Timely for those of us searching for next steps

    The militarization of police goes back a few decades, not just since 9/11. MinnPost offered this on the topic a couple years ago:

    The author makes some telling points about the way MN trains police officers. The statistic about the amount of time spent learning conflict resolution is stunning, considering the fact that a good deal of police work is conflict resolution.

    An anomaly is, by definition, an unusual event. The word is used appropriately here.

  8. Submitted by John Velie on 07/11/2016 - 02:25 pm.

    Thanks for writing truth

    I’m forwarding your article to my State Senator (Dibble) and my State Rep (Thissen). You need to be involved when they start writing legislation to push for positive changes to local policing. Thanks for standing up.

  9. Submitted by James Hamilton on 07/11/2016 - 03:13 pm.

    A chance to begin a conversation

    is once again ignored by many who leap to attack the ideas offered and defend the status quo.

    Folks, we’re in trouble in this country. Mr. Densley’s perspective as one of those charged with educating prospective law enforcement personnel is entitled to some consideration. His opinions, unlike those of some of his critics, appear to be based on personal experience, observation, training, and thought. Disagree, certainly, but try to do so with facts rather than personal biases and conjecture.

    As to conjecture: once again we are faced with a situation in which we have no official word on what happened the night Mr. Castile was killed. All we have heard from the outside of his car has been filtered through the involved officer’s attorney. With all due respect to him and to his client, a prospective defendant’s attorney should rank low on our list of reliable sources.

    Those who believe we should take pride in the training received by Minnesota law enforcement might want to take a few moments to review the required coursework. Here is a link to the two-year degree program offered in Alexandria:

    As you can see, the program teaches to the test:

    “The Law Enforcement Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree is designed to prepare students for two primary objectives: (1) gain the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively function as a peace officer and citizen and (2) develop skills and characteristics necessary to successfully pass the Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board examination and gain employment.”

    You’ll find the required courses here:

    Consider how few hours are devoted to officer-civilian interaction of any type.

    Mankato offers a 4 year, Bachelors of Arts Degree, requiring 55 hours of criminal justice coursework for a law enforcement major and 57 hours for a pre-professional degree:

    By comparison, a B.S. in elementary education requires 74-78 credit hours in the major.

    Mr. Densley has pointed to an alternative, although only indirectly: the establishment of police academies. I for one would like to hear more about the concept, how it is applied elsewhere, and how it might be best implemented in Minnesota.

  10. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 07/11/2016 - 03:33 pm.

    Densley Ignores One Huge Factor!!!

    I am not going to defend any recent shootings by police officers, because I don’t have facts about those cases, but I do have another fact. I started as a cop in 1966 and retired from law enforcement in 1992. That is 24 years ago. Between 1966 and today, there has not been a single advancement in weaponry for police officers — actually, there hasn’t been any change in weapons for police since John Browning invented the Colt 1911 in the first part of the 20th century. Sure there have been modifications to size, materials, holsters and calibers, but it is basically the same old guns, some single-action, some double-action. Since the invention of the Taser in the 1970, there has been nothing in the line of nonlethal weaponry that works reliably. The Taser is not reliable. Like Densley said, we have the most educated police officers in the country, but they are working with some century old weapons. There is nothing wrong with the training, what Densley calls conditioning is called safety training in private industry. Obviously Densley has never worked on the street or he would be calling it safety training also.

    Police officers don’t go out to kill people, regardless of the person’s race or color, but often they are called upon to make split-second decisions to shoot or not shoot. If the cops had a reliable, nonlethal weapon, maybe Castile would be alive — maybe in the hospital, but alive.

    When I left law enforcement, I went to work in the private sector for the likes of GE, Control Data and Rockler, and big or small all of them had a product-development department. My question is why doesn’t the federal government or state governments have a product-development department for law enforcement? It is beyond me how we could have made it this far without developing something that stops but doesn’t kill. WE should have been working on this 30 years ago.

    I have known officers who have justifiably killed somebody. It ruined their lives, and two of them committed suicide. If you have a tenth of a second to make a decision and all you have to make sure you are going to be alive is a century-old weapon, what are you going to choose? Maybe a phaser from “Star Trek,” but at least the damn government ought to be working on something.

    Kenneth Kjer PhD SPHR

  11. Submitted by Mike Chrun on 07/11/2016 - 03:47 pm.

    Valued Perspective

    Since I must have different reading skills than a couple of people, I think the author makes several valuable observations and suggestions. One, the mentality of “us versus them” is a hinderance to being an effective policeman. It seems to be perpetuated by the use of retired police officers as instructors. Maybe I’m just assuming it, but it certainly seems like Mr. Densley is in favor of using these veterans less, and certainly not as primary instructors. Second, and most important, is his account of how few hours are spent on training in human interaction and conflict resolution. 50 hours for firearms training and only 5 for dealing with people? People that most departments pledge to protect and serve? Again, maybe I’m only assuming, but it seems Mr. Densely would like to see those hours much more in balance. Finally, the cost of PPOE does preclude a more diversified police force if you have a disproportionate amount of property between ethnic groups. Police academies would seem to make the training more available to everyone. I don’t see this article as an attack on the police profession; rather it’s a sincere attempt at starting to solve a problem that is tearing our society apart.

  12. Submitted by Susan Herridge on 07/11/2016 - 09:07 pm.

    More to come!

    I exchanged emails with the author after this piece (or something very similar) ran in the Star Tribune on Sunday and he mentioned that a follow-up piece, with a recommended “blueprint ” for future action will be running later this week in MinnPost. So stay tuned! (For those of you critiquing this piece for not being complete).

  13. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 07/11/2016 - 09:19 pm.

    It is time to rethink Minnesota’s system

    I can’t say I can agree with the author’s comment that policing is no more dangerous than construction work or taxi-driving. Maybe in fact it is so, but common sense tells me that police work in modern USA is inherently confrontational. Police do not walk around neighborhoods on a beat in most parts of the country; they spent their time patrolling in cars. I imagine much of the time spent on the job is very boring but this is alternated with moments of what must be subjectively fraught with high risk and danger. Maybe police work is no less dangerous than many other ordinary jobs, but I empathize with the police who feel that they are putting their lives and health on the line when they put on that uniform. They are and they deserve all of our continued support for that.

    If those who are recruited are those who are attracted to the job for that reason or, whether they are or not, if they are never taught how to avoid, manage and mitigate those situations, there are going to be problems as we’ve experienced recently. I’m not convinced Minnesota is alone because these confrontations and deaths are occurring elsewhere and have been now for years. Whether justified or not, I think it’s fair to say that many, maybe most, law abiding African-Americans feel terrorized by the police. That’s not right in any country, least of all in the USA. The author here has highlighted some reasons why Minnesota police may be poorly prepared to face the sort of risk and danger they encounter. Another was suggested in the article about the retired police chief Ohl who apparently shrugged or laughed off criticisms of his police interacting with stopped motorists from behind the left rear of the vehicle using the driver’s mirror. (That struck me as simply bizarre.).

    I was not born in Minnesota but came here for employment as an adult. It’s been my experience that Minnesota is very resistant to trying things that hasn’t been thought of here first. In other words, Minnesotans don’t like listening to perceived “outsiders” even when they have advanced degrees and offer good advice. There’s a lot in the US that needs to change for our own survival. It might help in Minnesota if we started listening to what others have to say by way of constructive criticism even if they are “outsiders.”

  14. Submitted by Jim Million on 07/12/2016 - 12:45 pm.

    Anomaly pro forma?

    Certainly the events in Dallas require fair and positive discussion of details and peripheral issues, not as negative policing example, but as reasonable example of response to chaos.

    Those of us who watched events in real time saw first the careful determination of DPD to respect the march and protect all parties against typical crowd dynamics. Until shots were fired by a sniper with carefully-planned strategy, all was going pretty well. I saw great care taken by officers to safely disperse and protect the crowd, while under fire themselves. I’d say the police planning and response was exemplary in this case. The scene was quickly cleared with very few civilian casualties, not so for police officers, as we soon knew.

    Everyone should recognize the positive results of excellent training and response in this specific event. Dallas PD minimized public mayhem, even as it became clear they were the targets. What we saw in the pursuit of the shooter was excellent tactical response. I do not see how anyone can honestly use this event as foundation for police policy, training or response arguments. I saw several officers aggressively pursue the perpetrator, some at their own personal expense. This determination to get the shooter as quickly as possible meant death to several.

    Yes, the Dallas assassinations (they were intended as such) are an anomaly in retrospection. I believe the honest question now should be: Will this incident remain a national outlier, or become part of a new statistical cluster that somehow bends the curve of normal distribution?

    As for Falcon Heights, well, that seems at this time to warrant some civilian questions; however, we certainly cannot generalize upon that incident, either. As ugly as it seems (and may be), we must not conjoin this incident with others of our predisposed choosing until we truly understand what it truly was all about. Public opinion is always pretty shallow until all facts of circumstance are dredged up for evaluation.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/12/2016 - 12:48 pm.

    It’s the militarization

    Someone recollects incorrectly that the militarization of police forces began after Sept. 11, 2001. That’s incorrect. In fact it began in earnest after the “War on Drugs” was declared in the 1980s. By the time we get into the 90s police forces are increasingly armed (due to increased federal spending) with military hardware, and we expanded the mission from a War on Drugs to a War on Crime.

    The problem with these “Wars” is that the enemy, by default, is the civilian population.

    Many of us noticed, wrote, and protested this militarization at the time. I noted and wrote about it extensively while covering the huge and violent operation that removed protesters from the Hiawatha Reroute in 1998. The final straw was the 1999 Battle for Seattle demonstration against the WTO. For lack of a better description the Battle for Seattle appeared to completely freak out law enforcers who decided that they were facing hostile populations with inadequate weaponry and equipment.

    A few years after Seattle the militarized nature of policing in MPLS was clearly displayed at an anti-GMO rally. Police all geared up in their new riot stuff adopted the military tactic of trapping demonstrators between two police lines and then issuing an impossible order to disperse (there’s no where to disperse to when you’re surrounded by police). Police then used the pretext of a thrown bottle to attack the trapped crowd that had begun to sit down. We saw this same tactic deployed at the republican national convention years later. In earlier decades police would just disperse crowds rather than trap them for arrest or assault.

    It’s clear that police have somehow adopted the posture that they’re walking into potential ambushes when they respond to calls, or pull people over. The St. Anthony cop clearly did know how to handle the situation and decided he was facing a life threatening enemy, where did that posture come from?

  16. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/12/2016 - 01:54 pm.

    A fair critique

    I’ve watched local police operate in 3 different states over the years, but observing doesn’t automatically mean you understand what you’re seeing. For 45 years, I lived in Ferguson, MO (where Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson Police officer in 2014, an event that helped start current agitation over the relationship between police forces and minorities communities) without ever having a clue about the way local ordinances were enforced there. As a white male, I didn’t live in the poorest section of town, or in one of the neighborhoods that the St. Louis area’s long-standing tradition of residential segregation ensured would be predominantly black. I didn’t get pulled over for trivial reasons, nor was I forced to pay increasingly burdensome fines for “offenses” that sometimes wouldn’t be accepted as legitimate in a junior high, much less in the adult world. My world as a white resident was dramatically different from the world of Ferguson’s poor and black residents, and until the investigations that followed Michael Brown’s death, I had no idea of the disparity that existed in terms of how local ordinances were enforced in different parts of the city.

    So, it’s with that background that I read Mr. Densley’s piece. For the most part, I think he is right on the mark.

    Promoting a “warrior” mentality among recruits and officers strikes me as an exceedingly poor model to follow. It’s a difficult enough job as it is without characterizing the citizens the police are supposed to be serving and protecting as the “other,” or, even worse, “the enemy.” I don’t want my tax dollars paying for an occupying army that considers itself separate from the citizenry it’s supposed to be serving. The discrepancy between the amount of training that license-eligible officers receive in the use of firearms compared to the amount they receive in conflict resolution is telling, and absolutely to the point. That very little of even the small amount of conflict resolution training is devoted to de-escalating confrontations speaks volumes about the priorities of those running those programs.

    Mr. Densley’s remarks about the relative danger of police work strike me as similarly on the mark. For a soldier in a combat zone, a sailor on a ship in combat, or an airman whose aircraft is on a combat mission, it’s very dangerous work, indeed. Those situations, like much of police work, are also anomalies. For every combat soldier, there are typically 9 other “soldiers” whose jobs mostly involve typing, driving a truck, loading supplies, tracking the locations and activities of humans, weapons, supplies, and so on and so forth. Much the same is true of personnel in the other service branches, and there are, as Mr. Densley points out, many, many police officers who serve entire careers without ever having the need or opportunity to actually use their service weapon outside of a firing range used for qualifying. Much the same can be said of the armed services. Sea duty will inherently be more dangerous than staying on land, flying inherently more dangerous than sitting on the front porch, but combat itself is an anomaly.

    Speaking as a retired teacher who watched my colleagues’ work over the course of 30 years, I have to agree with Mr. Densley’s suggestion that “license-eligibility” doesn’t equate to “quality.” Plenty of people get degrees in education who are not especially talented with children in a classroom. Plenty of others get degrees in business without being especially good at business. Name a professional field, and you’ll find practitioners who are genuinely skilled and dedicated, many others who are mediocre, and a substantial number who simply aren’t very good at what they’re doing.

    Without taking part in one, I’m nonetheless intrigued by the notion of a police academy to train police officers rather than using the state college and university system. If we don’t want to try a police academy, then I’m persuaded by events over the 7+ years I’ve lived here that Minnesotans ought to nonetheless look for an alternative to what we’ve been using. The training currently provided is not working as it should from the perspective of far too many citizens.

    And – a last-minute addition – here’s a link to a piece from Slate that throws some additional (not necessarily clarifying) light on the issue:

  17. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 07/18/2016 - 09:47 am.

    One suggestion…

    Looking back at the MPD officers who got in trouble (fired) for their race baiting weekend in Green Bay; were they expressing the 1% view of MPD officers? Or 50%? I believe the truth is somewhere in between. And a good way to fix the problem is make MPD officers live in the city, hopefully as close to their assigned area as possible. Incentivize them to do this with significant financial advantages to cops who live in the neighborhood they serve and protect. The “warrior mentality” is facilitated by cops who leave their safe, suburban residences to enter the combat zone, a place they have contempt for and would never live in.

  18. Submitted by Paul Linnee on 07/19/2016 - 03:27 pm.

    How becoming a cop has changed from when I did it……….

    I write today in response to James Densley’s excellent July 9 commentary piece in the Star Tribine and his subsequent missive on MinnPost, as well to the general concern expressed concerning the quality of policing and cops in Minnesota. I first became a “Certified Peace Officer” in the state of Minnesota in October, 1970. Back then, things relating to becoming a cop (the term is used here to cover city police officers, county sheriffs or their deputies, DNR enforcement officers/game wardens, MN State Patrol troopers and agents of the BCA) were much different than they are today.

    How one becomes a Minnesota cop today has changed fundamentally in the past four decades, and these changes have influenced who becomes a Minnesota cop today, In fact, our arduous process for becoming a cop is unique to Minnesota.

    I decided to try to become a cop around 1967. At first I wanted to be a state trooper, but you had to have 20/20 vision and a 10-week live-in academy experience was required. And if you passed, you were ranked and then given a job as a real trooper as openings occurred, which may be months, or never, depending on vacancies on the State Patrol. As a glasses wearer, I moved on.

    In 1969, nearing the end of my 4+ year pursuit of a journalism degree at the U of M, I applied for a job as a patrolman with my hometown police department in St Louis Park. I and 239 other males took the Civil Service written exam, and I think I ranked first. But I believe at that time all qualified U.S. military veterans who scored a passing grade of 70 on the exam were moved ahead of all non-veterans who had scored above them. Needless to say, 1969 saw lots of veterans coming back from Vietnam, many seeking police jobs. Since I was not a vet, once veteran’s preference was invoked I moved down the list to between 30 and 40. There were perhaps 40 cops in St Louis Park back then, so it was going to take a long time to hire down to my number (and likely never would) before that list would expire. Nevertheless, late in 1969 or early 1970 I was granted an interview. Since the interview panel knew that in March, 1970 I would receive my B.A., the very first question I was asked was, “Since you’ll be graduating from college in a few months, why on earth would you want to become a cop in St. Louis Park?” I don’t recall what my answer was, but with Veteran’s Preference, it didn’t matter, no job offer was ever made.

    A few months later, after graduating and working in my “chosen – college degree required — profession” of journalism at the princely salary of $740 per month, I went back to the placement office at the College of Liberal Arts to see what other jobs might be out there. I had gotten married that April and needed more money; I was also bored in my job. Then I saw an ad from Burnsville for Public Safety Officers (PSO). Upon further reading I learned that PSOs were actually real, live cops, complete with guns and badges, but they also served as real-life firefighters, largely at the same time. But the biggest shocker was that Burnsville required that all applicants to become PSOs had to possess a B.A. degree in SOMETHING. They didn’t care what field of study; any four-year degree would do. Also, since Burnsville had not adopted the civil service system under Minnesota law, they didn’t have to honor Veteran’s Preference. So I applied, took the battery of tests and interviews, and was hired.

    By late September, 1970, I and four other guys began our careers as PSOs. Eventually, one of us went on to become a district court judge, one a major county administrator, one a police chief and chief deputy sheriff and one an assistant fire chief. A few weeks after our hire date, we attended the eight-week Basic Police Officer Training Course offered by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that was a requirement (within the first year) of all new peace officers in Minnesota back then under rules promulgated by the Police Training Board. The only exceptions were for new hires who had attended similar (and state-approved) ‘academies’ operated by the State Patrol for their troopers, the Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments for their own new hires, and a suburban Hennepin County academy that operated for a few years.

    My group of five new PSOs was not the first wave of college-educated PSOs in Burnsville, but we were the largest cohort hired at once. In fact, the degree requirement had been in place for a least a year before we were hired. Shortly after we were hired, the U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark had written a book called “Crime In America” (1971) in which he stated that of the over 15,000 police agencies in the U.S., only three had four-year college degree requirements: the FBI, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office in Portland, Oregon and the Burnsville Public Safety Department.

    And were we very proud…… until the next time we had coffee with our friends from the Savage, Lakeville, Bloomington or Eagan police departments, or the Highway Patrol or the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office, not to mention if we ever had to set foot in the Minneapolis P.D. HQ to seek some information. Not only were we those ‘college educated punks from Burnsville who think they are such hot stuff’, we didn’t even look like “real cops”! For reasons never explained to me, we were outfitted in “professional attire”: light blue trousers, a dress shirt of any color, a tie of any color, and a dark blue blazer that did not bear a departmental patch on the breast pocket! All we had was a slip-in black plastic name tag with our name and PUBLIC SAFETY OFFICER Burnsville, Minnesota on it. (I have photos to prove this, but could not figure out how to post them here)

    We also carried a pretty big gun, handcuffs and a mini-canister of mace, but they were intentionally out of sight under our blazer. And, to top it off, I believe we were paid considerably more than any other rookie cops in Minnesota. ($10,250 per year in late 1970). Of course, we could rationalize that we also had to do fire-fighting work while on duty as well as serve as volunteer firefighters off-duty, but to the rest of the police world, that didn’t matter too much. All they saw was Degree, Big Salary, Funny Looking Clothes and a former U.S. Attorney General saying that it was really cool that some places were requiring cops to have four-year degrees!

    Our colleagues in other law enforcement agencies understood those observations to mean that we in Burnsville were somehow being portrayed, and probably viewed, as better than them. So gradually the political decision was made to work towards a system and process in Minnesota that would require that all cops have college degrees, while also creating a system under which there would be even more control over who becomes a cop—and who doesn’t.

    I am not privy to the specifics of how the legislation creating today’s Minnesota Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Board was created, but I think it happened in the late 1970s and/or early 1980s and that the proponents argued along these lines:

    – It’s a good idea for new cops to have college degrees.
    – College degrees can be defined in several ways: a four-year B.A, or a two-year associate degree granted by a community college.
    – Let’s create the requirement that applicants for cop jobs must have (at least) a two-year associate of arts degree in some field of study that we, the State government accept (e.g. criminal justice studies) before they can even apply for a cop job.
    – But none of the colleges of the day had staff prepared to teach such a curriculum; they might be able to teach sociology-type courses on criminology, but college-educated cops would need more practical training as well.
    – But we don’t want to (or college accreditation bodies won’t let us) give college credit for classes like Handcuffing 101 or Pursuit Driving 101 or Defensive Tactics 101, but we believe these skills are also important in the ‘making of a cop’.
    – So let’s create an added requirement would-be cops would have to meet: the Basic Police Skills Training Program that would last eight weeks and involve local vocational technical institutes.
    – And, in order to make this whole process cost-efficient, let’s require that all applicants pay all tuition and associated costs for this two-year (minimum) degree as well as the police skills course so that no government agency would have to foot the bill nor pay the would-be cops for the time they would have to invest.

    The attentive reader may have realized by now that since most people intent on pursuing this arduous and somewhat expensive process would probably have had to decide on policing as a career very early in life, maybe in the middle of high school. Otherwise, had they graduated and embarked on some other plan involving personal expense and a personal life, then decided they wanted to be cops, they would face a whole new situation—and considerable added expense.

    And where would the necessary course instructors come from? And if there were a cohort of college-educated cops, most of whom got their college educations from former and current higher-ranking cops, might that have some impact on the possibility of new thinking in police work?

    And what about the informal ‘screening process’ that might take place in these two mandatory stops along the way to becoming a cop, two stops where no actual hiring is taking place, so one can never accuse the college of discrimination on the basis of race, sex or other factors. But isn’t it just possible that one or a series of those college or police skills instructors might discriminate against those who they don’t think should end up being cops with a bad grade, or a bad word?

    Finally (and this issue has a strong parallel with the procedurally bogged down Alternate Licensure Procedure for teachers in Minnesota), what about the “mid-career” young adult of, say, 30 years of age, who wants (for all the right reasons) to become a cop? He or she has a B.A. or even an M.A. in something other than criminal justice studies. He or she has college debt from obtaining that degree. He or she may have a home, a family and kids. He or she would not necessarily scoff at the starting pay of today’s urban police officer ($54,504 per year in Minneapolis, with great benefits and a good pension), but he or she just cannot afford to take two plus years off from their real world to go back through all the post-mandated college and police skills hoops without any guarantee that they would ever get a police job. So, all too often, perhaps they don’t bother.

    Why not develop an alternate licensing procedure for quality candidates with two (or even four) year degrees, in any field, whom law enforcement agencies can go out and attract, recruit, and hire as cadets with the requirement that within six months they take and pass a to-be-developed Alternate Minnesota Peace Officer Licensing test, and when they pass it they become real cops, with a one-year probationary period during which they can be fired without cause. Just like real cops.

    Such a program might be of great benefit to those agencies that profess to be trying to “make our police department more representative of our community” (in terms of race, gender, gender identity, etc.) but claim their hands are tied because there just aren’t many persons of the type they’d like to recruit in the “pipeline” I have described above.

    Finally, I should report that until I left the public sector in 1994, I proudly carried (and renewed every three years – through required in-service training) the Minnesota Peace Officer License I obtained in 1970, even though I was only an active Peace Officer for about three years, followed by 21+ years as a civilian public safety administrator for two Minnesota cities after leaving Burnsville. During that time I was heavily involved in hiring and training police officers and counseling civilian employees who worked for me as 911 dispatchers on how to become cops under today’s rules. It is from that perspective that I argue that it is time to examine a change in how we make cops in Minnesota.

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