By Andrew Tellijohn
John Luse and Jeff Potts, the police chiefs of St. Louis Park and Bloomington, sat down over coffee a few years ago to discuss problems they were having with recruitment. Their communities were becoming more diverse, but their police cadet applicants weren’t.
That conversation was the beginning of a program called Pathways to Policing. Luse retired soon after that meeting, but his successor, Mike Harcey, liked the concept.
Harcey and Potts continued working together to create the Pathways to Policing program, which allows anyone in any career with a two- or four-year degree from an accredited college or university to apply to become a police officer.
“We wanted to come up with a program where we cast a wide net,” Potts says. “The traditional hiring process delivers high-quality candidates, but not a lot of diversity.”
The program was the winner of a League of Minnesota Cities 2018 City of Excellence Award in the topical category of Promoting Leadership and Career Opportunities in City Government.
Creating and launching
The Human Resources departments in Bloomington and St. Louis Park worked closely on creating the recruiting, hiring, marketing, and training portions of the program, which is modeled after a similar program used by the Minnesota State Patrol. The cities worked out a partnership with Hennepin Technical College for the training. The college requires 12 to 14 officers to assemble a training class, so the two cities opened the program to other metro-area police forces.
The program launched in 2017 with six participating departments. It drew nearly 500 applicants and resulted in 12 hires. Bloomington hired three; St. Louis Park, Eagan, Maplewood, and the Metropolitan Airports Commission each hired two; and Hastings hired one new officer. The recruits come from several different professions and two-thirds of those new officers are racially diverse.
“They’re bringing different life experiences to the police department,” says Harcey, whose Pathways hires have accounting, mechanic, and tiling backgrounds. “They bring business experiences to policing. Really it helps bring a broad spectrum of diversity into the organization.”
Two hiring rounds completed
As part of Pathways to Policing, police departments pick from the pool of applicants, who go through a multi-step interview process. Once hired, the officers-to-be enter a 22-week training program at Hennepin Technical College at the expense of the police department.
Tuition for the college program costs approximately $9,000 per cadet. Thus far, that has been offset by a $400,000 appropriation in 2017 from the Minnesota Legislature. Departments can apply for grants to cover the costs. That program is over¬seen by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Office of Justice Programs.
The departments conducted a second Pathways hiring process last year, when 14 new officers were hired from among 325 applicants. Those officers will finish their training and, upon passing their certification exams, will join their departments likely by April.
The program could expand into additional cities in the future, but not every city participates for the same reason. Benefits of the program differ, depending on the individual needs of a community, Potts says. In Bloomington and St. Louis Park, the motivation stems mainly from changing demographics and finding recruits representative of those new residents.
In other cities, he says, it might allow the police department to hire a local person who wants to stay there and work, rather than gain experience for a couple years, then move to a larger city.
In St. Louis Park, Harcey adds, the candidate pool in general has shrunk the last decade, especially with respect to people from different ethnic or non-traditional backgrounds.
“It also allows [us to hire] people who have been interested in law enforcement for a long time,” Potts says. “Maybe they grew up wanting to be a police officer, but they went to college for something else and they got into a different career and they don’t have the money to go back to school and cross over.”
“We pay them about 70 percent of the starting salary for a police officer and we send them to school,” Harcey adds. “It takes away the financial burden of making a career change.”
Rising to the demands
Tom Draper, professional peace officer education program coordinator at Hennepin Tech, says the students who come through the Pathways program often are a bit more enthusiastic and have more life experience than the standard police trainee, but also occasionally lack skills in some basic areas, such as defensive tactics or firearms training.
That means there may be times when instructors have to spend a little more time concentrating on a given subject. But the recruits, he adds, are glad to be there and willing to learn.
Although there may be differences between traditional recruits and those coming through the Pathways program, they all face the same scrutiny and the same curriculum. That’s necessary for their preparation for the Police Officers Standards and Training Board exam.
“We don’t change the program to meet the student,” Draper says.
One potential advantage of the program is that the new police officers come to the job with a variety of life experiences, some of which may be applicable to police work in the future. A one-time social worker might do well in a juvenile division. A former accountant might help in a white color crime investigation.
Potts says it doesn’t happen right away—you don’t necessarily hire with that in mind and you have to wait to make sure the transition to law enforcement goes as hoped. But those previous careers could be a long-term benefit. “You always realize that talent with that officer exists and if there is a way to put it to use in your organization, you’d be foolish to not consider that,” Potts says. “Can you guarantee you’re going to utilize that? No. But you’re always looking to figure out how you can use that person’s strengths to [the department’s] benefit.”
Potts adds that while 26 officers have now been hired through the Pathways program and nine departments are participating in the recruitment process for 2019, it’s too early to say this is a long-term win. The results thus far have been promising, but the officers are new.
“We have to give it some time before we really declare this is a victory or this is a failure,” he says. “It’s too early to say. Anecdotally, the concept is good. It helps us bring in good quality applicants. I think we’ve made good strides in developing the program.”
Andrew Tellijohn is a freelance writer based in Richfield, Minnesota.
Getting a Second Chance at a Policing Career
Callie Anderson has always known her career would involve public service of some kind. When she took personality tests in high school her best options always came up security, law enforcement, or firefighter.
So, despite her mother’s insistence that those career choices would be too dangerous, Anderson applied for a corrections job at the Shakopee Women’s Prison. After four or five months there, her military unit deployed to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and, before she got back in late 2017, she quit the prison job.
“I was miserable,” she says.
While looking around to figure out what to do next, she heard from a friend about the Pathways to Policing program, where she could apply, get hired by a department, then get paid while taking the classes necessary to become licensed. She says she probably would have bitten the bullet and applied through the traditional means had she not learned about Pathways, but the program significantly reduced her financial burden. “I am so fortunate to have gotten into the Pathways program,” she says. “You can’t ask for a better program.”
Anderson and her 13 colleagues are closing in on completion of their training programs. Cramming a ton of coursework and skills training into a few months, rather than the usual year or two, can get tiring—it’s an 8-to-5 job, plus studying at night, she says.
But she’s gotten close to the 10 men and three women she’s trained with. And she’s convinced she’s on the right career path.
“What attracts me the most about law enforcement is being able to be the person to help someone when they can’t help themselves,” Anderson says. “I’m the first one there to respond to someone in a crisis.”
She expects that she’ll be certified and on the job by April.
“I wouldn’t change anything for the world,” she says. “I feel very fortunate St. Louis Park chose me. I’m studying very hard and hope I come on to the job full-strength and show everybody what I’ve learned.”