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Law officer class options grow in Fargo

More options are popping up in Fargo-Moorhead for people considering a law enforcement career or for police who want to go back to school for a four-year degree.

More options are popping up in Fargo-Moorhead for people considering a law enforcement career or for police who want to go back to school for a four-year degree.

The University of Mary in Bismarck recently announced it will launch a bachelor's degree in management with a concentration in criminal justice in September at its branch campuses in Fargo and Grand Forks.

More than a dozen attorneys and law enforcement officials - including Fargo Police Chief Chris Magnus and two of his lieutenants - worked closely with the university during the past year to develop the program, said Karen Aly, undergraduate coordinator at the University of Mary-Fargo Center.

The group stressed the need for an accelerated degree program offered at night, with criminal justice courses taught by working professionals, Aly said.

Magnus said the program fits well with the Police Department's long-term goal of requiring all new officers to hold a four-year degree. The department now requires a two-year degree or equivalent level of course work.


"We've found that it's very helpful for an officer to have a four-year degree in terms of having a little broader exposure to the community and the world around them and issues in the criminal justice system," Magnus said.

Minnesota State Community and Technical College also is extending its criminal justice program from Fergus Falls to Moorhead. The college expects about 40 students to enter the Moorhead program in August, said John Centko, dean of academic affairs.

The two-year program will provide a seamless transition to four-year criminal justice programs at Minnesota State University Moorhead, Bemidji State University and MSU, Mankato, Centko said. Classes will be offered primarily in the afternoon, evenings and weekends.

Moorhead Police Chief Grant Weyland believes the two new programs will increase the pool of quality candidates for law enforcement jobs. Now, the closest criminal justice program in Minnesota is in Fergus Falls, and the nearest skills training is in Alexandria, he said.

Officers with four-year degrees are often better at writing reports, analyzing data and articulating their thoughts, which is helpful when dealing with the public or testifying in court, Magnus said. A greater focus on community policing also raises the need for officers to have a better understanding of social issues, he said.

"I think a lot of times the community and even people who are interested in pursuing police work forget that there's a lot more to the job than chasing down the criminals and responding to calls," he said.

More than half of Moorhead police officers have a four-year degree, Weyland said. The department encourages them to return to school and helps pay for their schooling.

"I think like any profession, the more education you have, the better prepared you are to deal with circumstances that may arise," he said.


With the new programs, Fargo-Moorhead will be awash in criminal justice courses.

MSUM and North Dakota State University already offer bachelor's degrees in criminal justice. NDSU also offers a doctorate degree and hopes to have a master's program in place by fall. Students at Concordia College can take criminal justice courses at MSUM or NDSU through the Tri-College University.

Aly said she was concerned at first about competing with the other schools, but felt more comfortable after consulting with a focus group that included Magnus, Weyland, West Fargo Police Chief Arland Rasmussen and Clay County Attorney Lisa Borgen.

"There is demand for sure," Aly said. "In fact, we were treated well and folks were really excited that we're going to be doing it in the evening."

Borgen and Fargo Police Lt. Paul Laney will be among several professionals teaching the seminar-style criminal justice courses at the Fargo Center, Aly said.

Students just entering the law enforcement profession also will be able to take their skills tests in Fargo through an agreement with Lake Region State College in Devils Lake, N.D.

Aly expects the Fargo Center to enroll 15 students this fall. Depending on interest, it may be expanded to Bismarck in January.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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