Applicants for jobs in the criminal justice field are vanishing — a fact evident in enrollment numbers in Minnesota State’s law program. Minnesota State University brought in representatives from law enforcement agencies Tuesday to connect with students on career and internship opportunities for the in-demand field.
The fair had officers and representatives from several Minnesota cities and counties filling the Centennial Student Union Ballroom with tables. The schedule included one-on-one discussions with county law enforcement officers, small group panels and a virtual reality shooting exercise called Practical Shot.
Officer Paul Hill from the Rochester Police Department said they have used VR for target practice in training for the past three years.
“One of our core values is to be progressive, so we’re always looking for the next best thing,” Hill said. “This is more relatable to new officers, because they’re younger and grew up playing video games. But it’s also cheaper for us, too. It doesn’t take as much manual labor to run this as it would to put someone through a scenario with three or four or five people.”
Despite continuous innovations in officer training, the field has experienced a decline in applicants over the past decade, meaning recruiting events like these have increased in importance.
Deputy Chris Anderson of the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Department said he has seen the number of applications drop significantly during his career, which changes the recruitment methods.
“It’s a different deal than it used to be,” he said. “It used to be that you got hired wherever you could get hired and if you had to move, you had to move. Now people are more selective.”
The decline in applicants has led some counties to re-evaluate pay and benefits plans.
“If we’re having trouble finding good applicants, one of the ways we can incentivize them is through money,” Anderson said. “At the county, if they look and say ‘Hey we need to fill these positions and we’re not able to,’ they’re more willing to work with benefits and perks and stuff like that.”
Several students at MSU have prepared to submit their own post-graduation applications by gaining experience through internships and participating in the MSU’s Joint Opportunity to Learn and Thrive (JOLT) program. JOLT is an experiential course that focuses on juvenile probation and offers shadowing a Blue Earth County officer and mentoring local kids.
“Speaking for myself, I’ve learned a lot just through JOLT alone, on top of the internship I’m currently doing,” MSU criminal justice student Caitlin Beaupre said.
Some students took the fair as an opportunity to explore and compare internship opportunities. Kenzie Nolle has an internship lined up in probation in Saint Paul, but went to the fair to get extra credit points for a class and to explore other options.
“I haven’t committed to any internships yet, so I’m kind of researching other ones and seeing if I’m interested in anything else. The majority of probation is unpaid internships, so it’d be nice to look into the paid internships. We have a mandatory 400 hours in order to graduate for corrections majors,” Nolle said.
Department of Criminal Justice Chair Pat Nelson said this is the second fair the department has had since its separation from the Department of Government two years ago. The first took place fall semester.
“We are seeing the number of people going into law enforcement and corrections has dropped, probably by about 50%. Students are not pursuing the field quite as much so that means their applications have dropped as well. So, a lot of agencies are hiring right now so that’s why we’re trying to get them in front of our students,” Nelson said.
“We haven’t been adapting as much to the changes in enrollment, but really the changes in the community and the expectations of law enforcement corrections and criminal justice. So, we’ve done a complete curriculum overhaul since 2017 for the law enforcement program, corrections program and criminal justice program to make sure that the students are getting a broader view of their place in the community; and having more tools such as communications, understanding the impact of mental health, understanding different cultures and victims.”
The department faculty are discussing how frequently they will host this career and internship fair going forward.
Header photo: Students were able to talk with a variety of businesses at the Criminal Justice Career and Internship fair that was held in the CSU Ballroom. (Dominic Bothe/The Reporter)
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