New recruits face Day One at the St. Paul Police Academyby Marisa Helms, Minnesota Public Radio
A new class of recruits begins the St. Paul Police Academy Monday. Last summer, after much tussling over the city's operating budget, the city and mayor approved hiring 26 new police officers this year, with 100 more to come by 2009.
As they enter the academy, the recruits face an intensive 10-week course to determine who will go on to field training and ultimately become one of St. Paul's finest. In a series of occasional reports, we'll follow one aspiring police officer through the academy.
St. Paul, Minn. — Charlie Anderson framed his childhood ambitions as a choice between two occupations.
"It was either cop or priest, pretty much since I was a kid," he says. "Priest or cop, one of the two."
Anderson grew up in a Swedish Catholic home in North St. Paul. His dad was a St. Paul police officer.
As a young adult, Anderson pursued a dual track of God and country. At 17 he joined the Army Reserves. A couple of years later, he enrolled in seminary. In late 2002 his reserve unit was deployed to Iraq. He was in a combat support group there until April 2004.
Anderson says the tour in Iraq brought him closer to choosing police work over the priesthood.
"Being a priest and being a police officer, people think that's two totally different things. And they're not at all," says Anderson. "In fact, it's surprising the number of police officers you'll meet who actually used to be in seminary or had been studying to be a pastor. It all has to do with service. It all has to do with a sense of justice, a sense of truth and wanting to serve that truth."
Anderson earned a degree in law enforcement at Metro State University, and then got a job writing parking tickets for the St. Paul Police Department.
When word got out that St. Paul was hiring officers, Anderson jumped. He was ready, he says, to learn how to be a cop "the St. Paul way."
He says he wants to join the St. Paul police force because it has a good reputation.
"That, and the fact I come from a retired St. Paul officer's family -- the whole legacy idea," Anderson says. "It is a family and, growing up around St. Paul officers, it's a very special family and one that I'd be honored to be a part of."
Now 26 years old, Anderson has essentially been hired. But before he can wear a uniform, he has to survive the first 10 weeks of Police Academy.
Along with the 20 other recruits in his class, Anderson took part earlier this month in an orientation -- hours filled with paperwork and fitness tests, in a quasi-military atmosphere.
During the orientation, Sgt. Jim Ramstad and other training officers spend much of the evening talking about what's expected of the recruits. Ramstad tells them he has an obligation to prepare them to be an officer or get rid of them.
"Plain and simple, if I don't think what you have going for you when we're done with this process, [is enough] for you to be safe and effective, I will do everything in my power to have you gone," says Ramstad. "Because it's not fair to you, it's not fair to the other 570 people who wear this uniform. It's not fair to the citizens of St. Paul to have you out there."
Anderson and his classmates are all dressed in suits, looking very nervous, and hanging on every word. There are 15 men and six women. Their ages range from early 20s to mid-40s.
Chief John Harrington says the class makeup hits his goal of 40 percent female and people of color.
"Mainly what we're looking for," he says, "is good people, people of good character that I really have faith that we can, with the right training, turn into great cops."
Harrington hopes each recruit in this class will succeed. But he's also realistic. Ten to 15 percent of them won't make it.
Recruit Charlie Anderson says he's nervous about the academy, but has no doubts about his calling.
"I don't want this to sound like I'm goody two-shoes, but I believe in a life of service to others. And this is just one way I want to live my life doing that. I can't imagine myself doing anything else," he says.
If the brass in St. Paul have anything to say about it, and they do, Anderson's next 10 weeks in the academy won't leave much time for imagining anything but policing. He'll not only learn how to fire a gun and make a traffic stop, but will also begin to grapple with the stress and ethical requirements of police work.
- Morning Edition, 02/26/2007, 7:25 a.m.