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MN West to add clinical skills component to program

justine wettschreck/Daily Globe Minnesota West law enforcement students practice handcuffing each other with assistance from Law Enforcement Coordinator Mark Holden. Handcuffing is one of the many hands-on lessons in which the students participate during the skills component program.

WORTHINGTON -- Gaining the knowledge needed to pass the Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certification isn't easy, nor is it meant to be, but Minnesota West Community and Technical College has just made the process a little less complicated.

It's something Law Enforcement Coordinator Mark Holden has worked toward for a long time -- adding the clinical skills component needed to obtain the two-year degree to become certified as a peace officer in Minnesota.

"We now offer the academic requirements and the clinical skills component needed for licensure," Holden stated. "Students don't have to go to a separate institution."

Since the law enforcement program's inception in 2003, students have had to register with Hibbing Community College (HCC) to take the skills classes to complete their degree. Over the years, some of the teaching and testing could be done in Worthington, but the classes themselves were still under HCC. For the students, it required separate funding, at least one trip to HCC and coordination between the two schools.

"Having the skills component here is going to give us better control over instruction and equipment, over the quality of their education." Holden said.

Minnesota West approached the POST Board with the idea of adding the skills component in 2004 and was approved, but the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system put a moratorium in place and ordered a study be done to determine if it was needed, Holden said. The study began in 2006 and was finished in 2008. The school applied for and was approved for a skills component again, but MnSCU didn't lift the moratorium. After POST approached MnSCU, all three entities worked together to get the program added at Minnesota West.

The driving course will be done in a two-day course at St. Cloud State University, but all other classes will take place in the area.

"(St. Cloud) will work with the students and allow them to come back at no charge if necessary," Holden said.

Unlike HCC, the registration, financial aid and billing for the course will not need to be separate from what the student has done through Minnesota West.

"We're really excited about this," Holden admitted.

Holden and LE instructor Markus Murphy said they feel a huge amount of ownership in the education and instruction of their students, often keeping track of where their various students end up.

"The majority of our students find employment in southwest Minnesota, but we have graduates who went on to work in South Dakota, Phoenix and Dallas," Holden said.

Some have gone on to become sheriffs or police chiefs, Murphy added.

Because Minnesota's peace officer certification standards are much higher than many areas of the country, some states seek out the Minnesota law enforcement graduates.

"Some departments from South Dakota go out looking for people from (Minnesota West)," Holden stated.

"And we get great support from agencies who have hired our students," Murphy said.

Adding the skills components -- traffic and felony stops, use of force, investigative, firearms, gang identification, just to name a few -- will enhance the Minnesota West program. A significant number of the instructors through the Hibbing program were local law enforcement officers, and that won't change much, Holden said.

"Ninety-five percent of it was and will be taught by area officers, but now we'll have a better handle on scheduling, equipment and curriculum," he stated.

Minnesota West provides their law enforcement students with an education not required by law, but knowledge that will keep them safe on the streets.

"We have no-win situation training," Murphy explained.

In a no-win situation, the only responses are fight, flight or freeze. Some people will get buried in an avalanche of adrenaline, rendering them unable to think or move.

"We practice that, and teach them 'Don't quit. Keep fighting,'" he said.

That training can save the life of a peace officer, both instructors agreed.

Simunition is another beneficial Minnesota West lesson, in which students shoot and are actually shot by bullets from a regulation officer weapon. The bullets, filled with dyed detergent, provide a valuable lesson to the officers-in-training.

According to Holden and Murphy, law enforcement agencies like the students coming out of Minnesota West.

"Our students are getting hired," Holden said. "Even in these tough economic times, our students are getting hired."

Daily Globe Reporter Justine Wettschreck can be reached at 376-7322.