or the past 38 years, the Burnsville Police Department in Minnesota has required a four-year degree for those candidates wanting to become police officers with our city. At first it seemed to create a bit of a challenge to hire qualified candidates; most of the officers in the greater Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area had only their associate of arts degrees as required by the statewide police standards and training regulations. Eventually, however, the hiring pool became deeper and deeper, and Burnsville really started to see the benefits of the four-year degree requirement. The applicant pool does include an adequate population of minorities and women with college degrees seeking employment with the police department.
Burnsville, a suburb of Minneapolis, has a population of nearly 65,000. It has a large and vibrant retail corridor that is accessible by two major interstates. The retail corridor, coupled with numerous multiunit-housing neighborhoods, makes Burnsville a community rich with cultural diversity. Burnsville's minority population is nearing 30 percent with a mix of Somalians, Hispanics, Russians, and other ethnic or national groups.
An objective of the department is to ensure that all of the neighborhoods receive the same high level of service. To do this, it is necessary to bridge the communication barriers and instill a level of confidence and trust between the officers and all of the cultural populations. Similar to experiences in other communities, some of the immigrants moving to Burnsville come from a country where law enforcement is a part of an oppressive government, and bridging this communication barrier requires time, effort, and ability by the officers.
Burnsville's four-year degree requirement helps to recruit big-picture thinkers who are creative, culturally aware, and technically sound in constitutional law, and who look for the best solution to the multitude of challenges they encounter. An officer's well-rounded educational background enhances his or her ability and desire to partner with the community members, use the vast resources both the residents and business owners possess, and make them a part of the problem-solving process. The synergy created between the community and the officers is the basic foundation of Burnsville's community policing efforts. ■