MNSU students reflect on law enforcement program

Jenna Peterson ® News Editor |
Photo by Kjerstin Hall ® Staff Photographer

Police brutality for years has been among America’s most controversial topics.

Following the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis and the civil unrest across the country that erupted in response, the topic of police brutality has been an ongoing discussion.

For many, discussion does not seem to be enough, with the police-related violence continuing into this week with the shooting and injuring of Jacob Blake, a black man in Kenosha Wisconsin. 

In response to this police violence, MNSU aims to create change on campus, by adapting the education for its law enforcement majors. 

Dr. Pat Nelson, chair of Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Law Enforcement Department, says the university is keen on making sure all law enforcement majors learn what police brutality is. And this knowledge starts from freshman year and continues until they graduate. 

On top of that, professors also recommend specific general education classes for law enforcement students to expand their perspective and become a global and engaged citizen.

Once they are enrolled in upper level classes, students are able to spend more time talking about decision making, critical thinking and their impact on the community. This will lead to each student learning how to use ethical resources instead of using any form of unnecessary violence.

Dr. Nelson is teaching a mindset class this semester where communication between officers and the community is a heavy topic. Students engage in role-play scenarios in an academic setting and play out different outcomes to specific problems. This allows students to understand what solutions are appropriate for certain problems.

Another question that arises when talking about law enforcement education is, “How much education does a person have to receive before becoming an officer?”

Minnesota requires a minimum two-year degree for law enforcement, but MNSU takes it one step further. The university requires a four-year degree from students to ensure they get at much education as possible before going out on the field.

When comparing MNSU to other colleges, Dr. Nelson stated, “We are the largest four-year program in the state with the school having 45-80 law enforcement graduates a year.” 

MNSU law enforcement senior Ben Cline was also available to talk about the program and his experience with it. He said each class addresses police brutality, police ethics, and situation de-escalation. 

In order to learn about these topics, students watch numerous videos of tragedies and incidents where an officer does something wrong. Afterwards, the class will discuss what was done wrong and how the problem could be fixed in an ethical way.

Classes use this approach when major news events break that involve officer shootings. In these cases, professors will stop their lesson plan for the day and discuss what happened and how it can be resolved.

“We take the day to watch the footage and discuss it, and play out different scenarios,” stated Cline.

While there are many classes for these students to choose from, Cline made note of two classes he believes each one should take before graduating. “Police Stress” and “Community Policing” both are the first look at what causes police brutality and any biases that take place.

Another law enforcement senior, Tate Marschall, described his classes in a similar way. He mentioned that while covering what’s on the syllabus for class, the topic of police brutality is always connected in some way to ensure students know how much of a problem it is.

The history of fear toward police is another topic discussed throughout law enforcement classes. 

Marschall noted the importance of knowing why different races and ethnic groups don’t trust the police, and it is even more important to learn how to turn that fear into trust. 

“It’s hard, but it’s something that needs to be done in order to create a safe environment,” Marschall said.

Something that makes MNSU’s law enforcement program stand out is how many of its professors worked as police officers.

“They can look at a video and say where a cop did something wrong and they’ll teach students how to properly handle those situations,” said Cline. “Many of these professors have worked in different parts of the country, and this allows each of them to bring different ideas.” 

Throughout the years, there are constant changes to the law enforcement program. Cline pointed out a few he would like to see take place, including required face-to-face classes in order to follow through with on-hands learning. 

Cline believes MNSU is doing the right thing by making changes as they are needed and are having discussions about uncomfortable topics. 

“I believe law enforcement should require a four-year degree no matter what. You have to want to be a police officer,” Cline stated.

The Law Enforcement Department has been holding community listening sessions throughout the summer to take constructive criticism and suggestions for what can be fixed or changed. 

“We will probably be making some curriculum changes, whether it being some more general education classes, or changing some of our curriculum in our program,” said Dr. Nelson. “We are now waiting for the final recommendations before we do that.” 

Dr. Nelson welcomes any and all suggestions from the community. She can be reached at pat.nelson@mnsu.edu.

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