Shannon Monroe was hired as Moorhead police chief in 2018, but he’s been with the department since 1994, and he’s watched the community grow more diverse while the police force remains mostly white and male.
Monroe has been frustrated with efforts to diversify the department.
“We would do recruiting fairs and things even down in the Twin Cities area to try and get minorities to come up and apply,” he said.
"But we would even hear from them that you know, ‘I just don't have any of my community there,’ and they didn't want to come up here, they didn't have the connections."
Monroe has also observed that when young officers don't have a connection to the community they often leave for jobs closer to home after a few years.
"And they are just really hitting the ground, fully competent, fully trained, and then we're losing them and having to start over again," said Monroe.
So Monroe juggled his administrative staff to free up about $45,000 and started a cadet program in hopes of growing future officers.
"We wanted to see if we could get more women and more minorities to come and be interested and get to know us and be comfortable, and want to seek a career here with us," said Monroe.
The first group of four cadets reflects that goal. There are two women, two men and, of those, two are BIPOC.
Sam Mukanya is pursuing a criminal justice degree at Minnesota State University, Moorhead.
He grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo but moved to Moorhead in 2016.
"This program is really good for me. It's taking me already where I want to be,” he said. “You get to know what you're going to be dealing with, and it gives you more experiences that you need to be prepared."
Mukanya hopes the cadet experience will improve the odds he can be hired as a Moorhead police officer.
“Moorhead is the city that welcomed me in the United States. So, I always think like, I can do the rest of my life here, it's a safe place,” he said.
On a weekday evening, Alli Garding is cruising the streets of Moorhead in a pickup truck. It's outfitted like a police vehicle, but the word ‘cadet’ is painted in large letters on the sides.
Her job is to respond to community service calls, barking dogs, or someone locked out of their car.
"None of our calls are high priority, and it's not like our calls are super stressful, so it's not too bad," she said as she navigated a busy street.
It’s a slow evening, but she's getting familiar with neighborhoods, and she's learning how to use the computer and radio systems.
"When I first started using the radio I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, literally everyone is listening to me, like what if I mess up?’ but now it's just so natural to do it," she said.
Garding grew up in Becker, Minn., but moved to Fargo to attend North Dakota State University where she's a senior criminal justice major. She wants to stay in the Fargo Moorhead community after she graduates.
The cadets do community service calls and parking enforcement, freeing busy patrol officers from those calls while getting on-the-job experience.
Nathan Wambach grew up in Moorhead and wants to follow in the steps of his father, who has been a Moorhead police officer and Minnesota State Patrol trooper.
Like all of the cadets, he emphasizes a desire to help people.
“It's especially important now that we're getting good people to become police officers,” said Wambach. “We need good honest people who aren't going to abuse their power, do anything like that, we need good people going into police work.”
“The reason why I wanted to go into law enforcement was you hardly see any women and people of color in law enforcement,” said Suham Ali, who grew up in Fargo. “And, you know, being both, I thought that it would be a great opportunity.”
The cadet program is only a couple of months old, but it’s already giving Ali confidence she can be a police officer.
"Seeing it from the outside, it just seemed like something I wouldn't be able to do, but, it's not as complex as it seems,” she said. “It's far easier now than when I first started," she said.
That's exactly what Chief Monroe likes to hear.
He hopes a few month of experience on community service calls will help prepare cadets for the pace of calls that overwhelms many new patrol officers.
"For 2020, I believe we hired 12 people and we had seven that did not make it out of training,” said Monroe.
"There's just so much coming at them from call to call to call that they don't get to digest it,” he said. “So if you took 15 calls during the night, and messed up something on the first one or two calls, they're having trouble like, ‘I don't even remember what that call was.’ So, some people just can't make that adjustment right out of college to working at that pace.”
That turnover leads to a shortage of officers that increases the call pressure on those working the streets.
Monroe say if the fledgling cadet program is successful, it will mean future officers are better prepared and look more like the community they serve.
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