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Graduating from the Minnesota State Patrol Academy in a COVID-19 world

May 14, 2020

New troopers being sworn in at graduation

A competitive hockey player. A Mayo Clinic dispatcher. A cellist, a pianist, a sponsored skateboarder, and a kidney donor. What do they have in common? They’re just a few of the 22 cadets who are now the newest addition to the Minnesota State Patrol.

Just like everything in this time of COVID-19, the 61st Training Academy Graduation was a bit different from its predecessors. Previous classes of cadets have graduated in U of M’s Mariucci Arena surrounded by family, friends and other well-wishers. This year the ceremony took place at Camp Ripley, and families watched via livestream. This year, the cadets’ chairs were placed 6 feet apart.

An unusual beginning to a career in the Minnesota State Patrol, to be sure. But an academy graduate doesn’t become a full-fledged trooper until 12 months after graduation. In the meantime, a new trooper is assigned to a district (and all troopers have to live within 10 miles of the station they work out of). Generally, a district consists of a town or city and its surrounding county or counties, such as the Golden Valley District or the St. Cloud District.

Once they start at their district, they’re assigned a field training officer (FTO), a veteran trooper who rides with them throughout every shift, showing them how to apply the skills they learned at the academy to real-life situations. In addition, the FTO helps the trooper learn about the geography of their particular district, any procedures specific to the district, and so forth.

There are three phases of field training that last a total of 12 weeks. During that time, the new trooper starts out only observing their FTO, and gradually does a larger and larger percentage of the work. Some of it is fairly routine, like writing up crashes, processing DWIs, and making traffic stops. But new troopers are also learning the more difficult aspects of the job, like informing a family as gently as possible that their loved one isn’t coming home after a fatal crash.

By the time the new trooper is doing 100 percent of the work, they’re in the shadow phase. At this point, their FTO is still riding along, but wears plainclothes. The FTO is only there to observe, not be noticed or involved in any way.

Once the shadow phase is complete, the new trooper can go on solo patrol without an FTO. They still have nine more months of probation period, during which time they will meet with their supervisor once a month. During these meetings, they’ll discuss issues like the trooper’s reports, how they’re handling the public, and how they’re working with other troopers. This is also an opportunity for the trooper to ask any questions or get clarification on anything they don’t understand.

Whether or not COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror by the end of their first year, the new troopers should be able to uphold their mission to protect and serve the people of Minnesota with the core values of the Minnesota State Patrol: respect, integrity, courage, honor and excellence.