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One way suburban Twin Cities police chiefs are trying to bring diversity to their departments

Most suburban police departments in the metro are overwhelmingly white. A group of police chiefs is hoping they’ve found a way to change that.

St. Louis Park Police Chief Michael Harcey: “The idea was to reach nontraditional candidates and really work on hiring for diversity so our workforce would reflect our community.”

Most Twin Cities suburban police departments have long been overwhelmingly white. But a group of police chiefs from several suburbs are hoping they’ve found a way to change that. 

Pathways to Policing is a new accelerated training program aimed at bringing more diversity to communities through the metro area — largely by eliminating some of the barriers regularly confronted by candidates of color interested in law enforcement.

“The idea was to reach nontraditional candidates and really work on hiring for diversity so our workforce would reflect our community,” said St. Louis Park Police Chief Michael Harcey, who developed the initiative in collaboration with his counterpart in Bloomington, Jeff Potts. 

One of the main barriers to some applicants of color, say suburban police officials, are the narrowly tailored requirements that traditional candidates go through to become police officers in Minnesota. 

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That process generally requires candidates to acquire associate degrees in criminal justice or law enforcement; complete the hands-on skills training program; and pass the Minnesota Board of Police Officer Standards and Training, or the POST. “Then agencies have the right to hire you as a police officer,” Harcey said.   

Pathways to Policing participants still have to go through a competitive process to be selected for the program by the participating departments — Bloomington, St. Louis Park, Eagan, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), Hastings and Maplewood— which involve multiple interviews, physical and psychological evaluation, a background check and rigorous four-month training. But there are some key differences with the traditional process.

For example, the new program accepts candidates with any kind of associate degrees, not just criminal justice or law enforcement degrees. The participating cities also hire candidates before they take the POST test, then provide the participants both the classroom and practical training they need to become licensed police officers. 

Efforts to create the four-month training program began a year ago, when the St. Louis Park and Bloomington police departments noticed the lack of qualified diverse applicants, even as the population of those from racial and ethnic minority communities continues to grow in the suburbs.

The first class of the Pathways to Policing program was launched in June with 12 prospective police officers who meet at Brooklyn Park’s Hennepin Technical College 40 hours a week.

The funding to support the officers-in-training comes from six police departments — Bloomington, St. Louis Park, Eagan, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), Hastings and Maplewood — and each department has sent participants to the training program. Bloomington has three participants in the current class; St. Louis Park, Eagan, Maplewood and the MAC have two each; Hastings has one.

When the program ends in October, the new graduates will take the POST licensing exam and go to their respective departments, where they’ll then receive further in-house training and work as field training officers — with the goal of eventually get promoted to become police officers.

Roggenae Michael, who was formerly a community service officer for the Bloomington Police Department, has long wanted to be a police officer, and enrolled in a law enforcement class at Metro State University as a way to eventually reach that goal. 

But that traditional route, Michael said, would have taken her longer and cost more money compared to the Pathways to Policing program. “With that program,” she said of her initial plan to pursue a career in law enforcement through Metro State University, “you’re not guaranteed a job even if you complete the skills program. It could be months or even years before you get a job offer.”

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“But with this [Pathways to Policing] program, you’re guaranteed a job at the end of the line as long as you successfully complete the testing and your class work.”