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College's latest crop of cops graduates walk

Career has seen plenty of changes lately

In the years that followed the 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and subsequent calls for law enforcement reforms, choosing a career as a cop got more complicated and less popular.

In 2019, 48 students graduated from the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College law enforcement program. In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, there were 27. In 2022, only 15. Last year there were 24.

There were 22 graduates at this year's Enhanced Skills Professional Peace Officers Education Program ceremony Friday afternoon.

FDLTCC law enforcement program coordinator Mike Tusken said things have changed a lot since he graduated from Hibbing almost 35 years ago. Training is far more comprehensive now, the former Duluth police chief said.

"We prepare them for not just the hard skills, but the soft skills," Tusken said in a speech at the FDLTCC graduation ceremony June 28. "We pound and pound and pound the fact that if you treat people with dignity and respect, you will transform people's opinions of law enforcement and you will build communities."

Today's job market definitely favors the graduates.

Out of the 22 students, 17 had either conditional offers or were undergoing background checks for jobs as of June 28, skills coordinator Joel Olejnicak reported. There were roughly 500 applicants for every five positions when he graduated, he said.

Tusken said it often took people up to three years to get a law enforcement job after graduating.

Today, Olejnicak said, there are 228 agencies in Minnesota with three and some with over 12 openings, estimating there are more than 1,100 jobs open for law enforcement officers across the state.

"That's unheard of," he said.

Last week's graduates were the 24th group of students to participate in the law enforcement skills training program at FDLTCC. Of the 22 graduates, six hail from Carlton County, including:

• Shelby Reynolds of Barnum.

• Dylan Clark, Aaron Lamb and Reese Turnbull of Cloquet.

• Braden Holty of Esko.

• Abbie Menze of Wrenshall.

Damian Paulson, interim vice president of student services, congratulated the students on attending the only tribal and community college in the country, and choosing "the best law enforcement program in the country."

"Our college teaches the importance of diversity and understanding the importance of seeing the world in a diverse way," Paulson said during the ceremony..

Most of the speakers touched on the quality of the training there.

Nate Smith of the Duluth Police Department, a 2015 FDLTCC graduate, commented on the rigor of the program.

"The standards for education objectives and firearm qualifications here ... are far superior," Smith shared with the audience. "Which means you, as students here, have had an even harder time in school than your law enforcement peers ... and you should be very impressed with that."

Tusken thanked the instructors sitting in the front two rows, most of whom are working in the field.

"And then in the evenings, they come here as subject matter experts, and they take those real-life experiences and they apply those to these students, sometimes on the same day," Tusken said.

Classroom training and more than 600 hours of skill training are required of all individuals seeking careers as peace officers in Minnesota. After classroom and skills training, students are required to pass the Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training Board exam to become eligible for employment as peace officers in the state.

Skills training topics include accident investigation, auto theft, radio communications, mobile field force, crimes in progress response, domestic violence investigation and intervention, drug interdiction, DUI detection and standardized field sobriety testing, emergency vehicle operations, radar enforcement, traffic stops, crime scene investigation, gang education, drug and controlled substance investigations, report writing, aerosol chemical weapons and chemical agents, diversity, community policing, professional ethics, and firearms training.

Paulson encouraged the graduates to make a difference in the world.

"You are not just enforcers of the law, but guardians of the trust and peace within the communities you will serve," he said. "We are confident you carry the skills and knowledge that you acquire, making a positive impact wherever you go."

For more information on the law enforcement program at Fond du lac Tribal and Community College, visit fdltcc.edu/degrees-