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Police chief's column: How to choose a police officer

Duluth police officer Jeffrey Webster hugs his grandfather Robert Fasching, of Maple Grove, after Fasching pinned on his badge during a swearing-in ceremony at the Public Safety Building in Duluth on Jan. 23. Webster is one of nine new officers who were sworn in during the ceremony. Fasching is a retired police officer who worked for the city of Plymouth, Minn. (Clint Austin for the Duluth Budgeteer News)

Nine new police officers were sworn in last week and we are already preparing for our next hiring process, which will begin in about four months.

I am often asked about our hiring process: What do you look for in a potential officer? How do you weed out candidates who are not suitable?

Well, our hiring process is extensive and begins 12 months before the chosen few hit the streets on solo patrol.

We begin with an application process and those qualified are allowed to continue on to take a written test.

Minnesota law requires you meet certain educational requirements to be eligible to become a police officer (of the nine officers that hit the streets last week, eight had bachelor’s degrees).

If you meet the minimum requirements to become a licensed police officer in Minnesota, you are allowed to take our test. Last year we received more than 300 applicants, and about 280 were qualified to test.

The tests are scored and ranked. Those scoring the highest are moved onto an interview with department and community members.

The first interview is scored and those receiving the highest scores undergo an extensive background investigation.

Credit scores are examined to ensure there are no red flags in this area. Past and present neighbors, employers and co-workers are visited and questioned about the candidate.

Additionally, friends and exes are interviewed to determine character and uncover any concerns.

We dig and dig — looking for what kind of candidate we have.

After the background is completed and there are no concerns, the candidate is allowed to continue on to a background interview and an interview with me.

The background interview consists of an in-depth questioning of the candidate’s background. Any areas of the candidate’s background that present the slightest of concern are further addressed at this time.

Parallel to the background panel interview, I, along with other department members, interview the candidate.

Our ideal candidate is someone who has life experience.

I began as a police officer at the age of 20, which, in retrospect, I think was too young to be dealing with the complicated issues many police must deal with. I would like to take back some of the decisions that I made early in my career when dealing with people, most of which revolved around lack of life experience and maturity.

I would really like to see more second-career candidates to choose from. We have had great luck with a couple of engineers who decided in their 30s they were interested in police work and decided to change careers.

In addition to those having life experience, I want to hire individuals who treat people well and have strong communication skills: those who can go into tense situations and use their interpersonal skills to resolve situations calmly without escalating matters. Many of our officers could make a lot more money in sales, because they can talk their way into and out of all kinds of bad, sad and terrible situations that police officers face on a daily basis.

Past work habits are telling. After talking to past supervisors and co-workers, we are almost always able to discover concerns.

Our officers must have a strong work ethic because so much is demanded of them. With our performance measures, there is no getting around that there is no downtime when you are a police officer. We expect that when officers are not handling or investigating incidents, they will be working on neighborhood issues, patrolling hotspots or getting to know people and businesses in their beat.

Along with strong character and integrity, one of the best attributes I like to see in potential police officers is helpfulness. Do they have a track record of being helpful?

The best police officers are most often helpful in nature. They often look at a situation not from the standpoint of being a police officer, but from a public servant’s perspective with the concept of simply being as helpful as possible.

Once we decide on our best candidates, the top group goes through extensive psychological testing.

This portion of testing measures aptitude for police work, ability to work in stressful situations, ability to handle stress, IQ honesty, behavioral traits, work ethic, ability to work with diverse communities and any abnormalities.

When the psychological testing is complete, a team of department members meets with the psychologists to discuss the candidates and determine if they are still suitable candidates.

Those who successfully pass this portion go on for physical testing and potential job offer.

Those candidates who are hired go through an extensive 11-week academy and then a grueling five months of field training where they receive more training before they transition into handling all calls by themselves. If they successfully pass this portion they are retained and certified for solo patrol.

Contact Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay at 730-5020 or gramsay@duluthmn.gov.

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