The class of newly minted peace officers ranged from 19-year-old Matthew Walsh to Marvin Wierenga, the oldest person ever to complete Lake Region State College's Peace Officer Training Program, to the class's top gun Michael White Owl, who earned accolades for having the best marksmanship in the class.
Walsh, Wierenga, White Owl and 15 others were honored during a graduation ceremony held Thursday at Minot State University. It was the first time the 14-week academy was delivered in Minot. Some of the new graduates were already wearing the uniforms of local law enforcement offices.
Minot Police Chief Jason Olson said the new officers are badly needed in western North Dakota, an area that is experiencing a large increase in population along with the oil boom. Law enforcement agencies have had difficulty recruiting new police officers because of the housing shortage and the high rents. Olson said offering the police academy in Minot meant that locals who have an interest in law enforcement and already have community ties and housing here can train for careers and can be hired to work for local police departments and sheriff's offices.
Andrea Johnson/MDN • Eighteen officers received their certificates Thursday for completing the Peace Officer Training Program at MSU.
The Ward County Sheriff's Office, Minot Police Department, and Lake Region State College all collaborated to bring the program to Minot for the first time.
The graduates took part in early morning physical fitness training, perfected their shooting at the Minot Rifle and Pistol Club's indoor range, spent hours studying laws and procedures, and endured getting sprayed in the face with pepper spray to learn its effects. They also learned how to drive an emergency vehicle, about forensics, how to clear a room of suspects and what happens if they make mistakes. The ceremony included a video presentation on peace officers who have been killed in the line of duty.
Wierenga, chosen to speak for the class, said he had served as a chaplain for the police department and sheriff's office and it has been a longtime dream of his to become a police officer. He was hired by the Ward County Sheriff's Office as a reserve officer and transport officer. He also was the class valedictorian, with the highest overall score, and was honored with a pair of engraved handcuffs.
Bill Miller, another member of the class, was also hired by the sheriff's office and Paul Olthoff, assistant Ward County jail administrator, is another graduate. Other graduates were recruited by Burlington, Surrey, and the Three Affiliated Tribes and others are likely to be recruited by law enforcement agencies from around the area.
The graduates included Paul Bakke, Thomas Behm, Leo Froehlich, Jacob Gadewoltz, Craig Harvey, Michael Hatfield, Bradley Heger, William Holler, Michael Jenkins, Isaiah Jung, Frederick Lee, William Miller, Paul Olthoff, Habeeb Rafiu, Matthew Walsh, Michael White Owl, Marvin Wierenga and Bob Ziebarth.
The graduates earned a certificate and have the option of applying the 20 credits they earned during the course towards a bachelor's degree at Minot State University.
Lake Region State College is the only college in the state authorized to deliver the North Dakota POST Board approved police academy. Successful completion of the program allows graduates to become licensable as peace officers in North Dakota.
Lake Region offers its one-semester peace officer training program in Devils Lake each fall. The college has conducted a summer academy in Fargo since 2002 with the cooperation of the Fargo police department and Cass County Sheriff's Department. A similar partnership between Lake Region and the Grand Forks Police Department created a summer academy in Grand Forks in 2010.
Instructors for the Peace Officer training program include more than 40 law enforcement professionals from 16 different law enforcement agencies in North Dakota.