By Jakkar Aimery
The Detroit News
DETROIT — The Michigan State Police are revamping their approach to training troopers as the agency seeks to diversify its recruitment statewide.
Officials say they’ve hired more recruiters and expanded the agency’s “Teen-to-Trooper” pipeline, a program to attract young candidates to policing. They’re also stepping up efforts to attract diverse candidates, setting a target of increasing the agency’s minority trooper applicant pool to 25% and female trooper applicant pool to 20%, saying diversity is “critically important to strengthening community relationships and building trust,” officials said.
The state police’s most recent graduating class, which finished in June, was 77% White and 6% Black.
MSP leaders said like industries across the country that continue to face staffing challenges and trying to attract candidates, “policing is no different in that regard,” officials said in a statement Friday. Still, they say they’re proud of the agency’s progress.
“I’m especially proud of our progress here at our agency because we continue to attract the highest-quality candidates in this challenging and competitive environment,” said Michigan State Police director Col. Joe Gasper at a news conference in mid-July. “To achieve this success has been very intentional.”
As of June, MSP has about 1,170 troopers assigned statewide, and a total of 1,885 enlisted members.
In April, out of 971 troopers, 798, or 82%, were White men; 75, or 7%, were White women; 43, or 4%, were Black men; five, or less than 1%, were Black women; 14, or 1.4%, were Hispanic men; and one was a Hispanic woman, according to MSP.
After years of smaller recruitment classes and more troopers looking to retire in the coming years, MSP is looking for new ways to fill out its ranks.
“Between 25 and 30 years ago, we had some rather large trooper classes. They are now eligible for retirement,” said Gasper. “So it’s very important we’re able to have people come through this academy to fill those positions people are leaving, and if we’re lucky, maybe we can grow a little bit.”
Gasper said the agency now is training its 144th Trooper Recruit School class, where potential recruits undergo a series of real-world instruction exercises during a 20-week program. Eighty-two recruits are registered for the program, which began July 9. Graduation is Nov. 22.
On a recent weekday, recruits stood before a row of mats, their arms outstretched. They’re trained in a number of areas, which MSP officials said they’ve modified to mirror modern policing best practices.
Subject areas include problem-solving, critical thinking, de-escalation methods, relationship-building with the community and creating path for accessible mental health services.
Recruits also receive training on water safety, legal issues and physical training. Water tank training, which involves recruits experiencing various real-world scenarios in water, involves a 12-foot-deep pool.
The training is important because Michigan troopers “are never more than six miles away from a body of water,” said 1st District Lt. Rene Gonzalez, public information officer for the MSP First District.
First District Recruiter Trooper Donald Stewart remembers having to make a save in Houghton Lake. He said without his training, “I would not have been prepared for that.”
“And the 8-year-old boy probably wouldn’t be alive today,” Stewart said.
Capt. James Grady, commander of the MSP Training Division, said potential recruits also receive academic and physical instruction. Cultural diversity and an implicit bias curriculum were added to recruit training in 2021. It includes 16 hours of instruction which includes speakers of various communities and ethnic groups and “candid and honest conversations.”
“This was an intentional addition to our training because we see the value in making sure our prospective troopers understand and have exposure to various cultures,” Grady said in a news release in 2021. “We pay very close attention to what our communities say they need from us. Policing as a profession has changed and we are adapting to better prepare the next generation of troopers.”
With the agency’s “teen-to-trooper” pipeline, which consists of its Explorer and Cadet programs, teens are trained and mentored by troopers. Unlike explorers, cadets, who have to be at least 18 and enrolled in high school or an undergraduate or graduate program, are paid $16.26 to $18.90 an hour for the part-time positions. Cadets complete a five-day residential academy at the MSP Training Academy in Lansing before beginning their work assignments at posts statewide. There are roughly 100 cadets in the state, Gasper said.
Faheem Abdullah, 25, of Coldwater said although he’s only in his second week of training, it’s harder than he expected.
“It pushes you through your limits,” Abdullah said.
Carly Arnett, 24, of Hillman, who has worked as a county deputy, training has been more detail-oriented and “super intense” compared to a previous prior police academy she graduated from.
“Just the atmosphere of having to stay here really puts your mindset in the academy,” Arnett said. “20 weeks sounds like a long time, but for the responsibility we hold, its really a small glimpse.”
MSP said the agency’s new methods of training have helped retain recruits and successfully get them through graduation.
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