- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Local law enforcement agency commanders say it’s too early to tell whether nationwide unrest over police-involved killings, such as that of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City, will affect police recruitment in North Dakota.

But they also say it’s hard to deny that the number of applicants has decreased dramatically in the past decade, the Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1JY3OsB ) reported.

There was a larger pool of applicants in days gone by, according to Bismarck Police Chief Dan Donlin.

Large officer candidate pools have given way to lucrative private-sector jobs, according to Donlin, explaining that increased competition for qualified candidates between state agencies also plays a role in the decline in applicants.

Donlin and North Dakota Highway Patrol Capt. Aaron Hummel, administrative services commander and overseer of the North Dakota Law Enforcement Training Academy, said the relative scarcity of women and men willing to subject themselves to the public scrutiny police face was another factor in the lower number of applicants.

“We do realize that it does take a special kind of person to become a law enforcement officer,” Hummel said.

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Joshua Nelson has been with the Tioga Police Department since May, when he moved there from Eagan, Minnesota.

He recently finished a course at Bismarck’s Law Enforcement Training Academy. Because of the extensive training Minnesota requires before one can be a sworn officer, Nelson only had to complete a short crash course on North Dakota criminal and traffic laws.

“This is just a two-week course for me,” he said.

Nelson, whose father is a firefighter in Eagan, said he knew he also wanted to go into a public service career. He spent a brief amount of time working at his father’s fire department.

“I enjoyed it, but when there are no calls and nothing going on, you’re really not doing anything,” he said.

Being a police officer, particularly in an oil patch town like Tioga, means staying busy.

“They say one year in an oil boom town is the equivalent to three years (elsewhere),” Nelson said. “It’s been hectic.”

Though Nelson’s start as a police officer predated the most recent round of police-related protests, he said he has no regrets in choosing a career in law enforcement.

“I have a passion for what I do,” he said.

Nelson called the national media’s portrayal of law enforcement “kind of a crummy deal,” but said police should be held to a higher standard.

“Our off-duty life should mirror the conduct of our professional life,” he said.

Sometimes, that means being careful what you say or with whom you associate when out of uniform, said Nelson, conceding that it can be hard to make friends.

“The people you work with become family,” he added.

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Bismarck Police Officer Ryan Guggenberger is even newer to the job than Nelson, having joined the force in July.

Like Nelson, Guggenberger is an expat from the Gopher State. He also said the excitement and challenge of police work is what drew him to the job.

“Honestly, the day-to-day challenges. That’s what I love about the job,” he said. “Every single interaction is different. There’s not one that I’ve dealt with that’s the same.”

Guggenberger was born and raised in Minneapolis and worked as a reserve police officer in that area prior to coming to Bismarck.

Guggenberger says the recent protests have had no effect on his decision to become a police officer.

Far from having regrets, Guggenberger said incidents nationwide provide him with learning experiences.

“I stay informed with it, that’s part of my duty with what’s going on,” Guggenberger said. “I definitely follow the news.”

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It’s unsurprising that officers like Nelson and Guggenberger are highly motivated because it’s no simple process to earn a badge.

The North Dakota Law Enforcement Training Academy’s basic training course is 476 hours long, or 59 and a half eight-hour days.

At the Bismarck Police Department, police candidates also need either 60 college credit hours, which is the equivalent of a two-year degree, four years of active duty military experience or three years of prior sworn law enforcement experience.

Donlin said that requirement for a more educated and experienced police force was what led to his department to recently receive a national accreditation award.

Donlin said that, once an officer puts on the badge, the work is just beginning.

“We have to have the trust of our community to do this job,” he said.

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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