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Dave Roepke, Published August 22 2010

Academy grads get a lock on cop jobs

Before he graduated last week, Pierre Freeman got a firm grip on what his work would be like. After all, his instructors included many of his future bosses.

Freeman was one of 28 students to graduate from the peace officer academy Lake Region State College holds in Fargo each summer, where more than 20 of Fargo’s officers and many from other departments in the state teach in the 14-week academy.

“You get a better perspective of what you’re getting into,” Freeman said. “You’ve got to go in glass empty, let them teach you everything they know.”

Not every student can get hired at the state’s largest police department right out of the academy, of course. But Lake Region’s officer-assisted training – roughly a three-month course that allows graduates to become licensed officers – amounts to a lock on a policing job.

The director of the police academy program at Lake Region, based in Devils Lake, N.D., said he doesn’t know of any graduate who hasn’t been able to get a job as a North Dakota officer or sheriff’s deputy, as long as they’re willing to move where openings are.

“There (have) typically been more jobs that we’re able to fill,” said Lloyd Halvorson, director of the program.

Halvorson said only the grads with specific locales in mind struggle finding a force to join. “If they’re just willing to live in Fargo, they might not ever get a job,” he said.

Freeman said talking to his fellow academy graduates, Halvorson’s take on the job market is spot on.

“He’s correct. There are jobs out there, definitely,” Freeman said. “It’s just a matter of applying yourself to the market.”

Policing is a growth field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a 10 percent rise in officer and detective jobs between 2008 and 2018, from 883,600 to 968,400. Yet the success of Lake Region’s program is in part its particular curriculum, said Assistant Fargo Police Chief Todd Osmundson.

“We just feel it’s a really quality product,” he said. “We certainly look at the academy as one of the No. 1 recruiting areas.”

The 39-year-old Freeman, who starts his departmental training with the Fargo Police on Monday, said he appreciated the balance of classroom learning and time in the field.

“It’s nice to walk through those steps,” said Freeman, who was offered a job with Fargo halfway through the program – one of two grads to land jobs in Fargo.

Halvorson said the Fargo Police Department has hired more than 90 Lake Region grads since 2002, the vast majority of hires during that time.

Grand Forks hopes to see an influx of Lake Region grads there, as well. Grand Forks police held an academy for the first time this summer, 23 students graduating on Wednesday. It was the first year in a four-year contract with Lake Region, said Lt. Mike Ferguson, who heads the human resources bureau for the Grand Forks department.

Ferguson said there are two big benefits to the Lake Region program. For one, it gives them a head start in training potential officers when they have their own cops doing the teaching.

And it also saves money, when compared to sending an unlicensed officer to the State Patrol’s academy in Bismarck. Recruits must be paid a salary during that training, whereas they pay their own way and collect no wage while studying in the Lake Region academy.

A new hire sent to study at Bismarck might not hit the streets for six to eight months, Ferguson said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535