Minn. police department to provide 'customer service' training to new recruits

Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said the training is intended to improve officers' day-to-day interactions with community members

Tom Olsen
Duluth News  Tribune

DULUTH, Minn. — Police officers put in hundreds of hours of logistical training, seeking to sharpen their skills and prepare for any dangerous scenario that might arise in the blink of an eye.

But cops tend to spend a lot less time training for their day-to-day interactions with community members, Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said.

"We're really good about training officers to be tactically sound — to have good critical-thinking skills and decision-making," he said. "But one of the areas we can improve upon is soft skills. Better communication will enhance your perspective and the way you look at problem-solving."

It is with that goal that the Duluth Police Department plans to introduce what Tusken describes as "customer service training" for the 15 newest recruits before they hit the streets for the first time.

The department has partnered with Dale Carnegie Training to experiment with a course that officials say could eventually become a more standard component of law enforcement training.

"Ultimately, when I think of Dale Carnegie, I think of customer service," Tusken said. "So many times it's used in industry, and policing really is about customer service. For years, it wasn't always looked at like that. We're a monopoly. You don't get to pick another police department because you don't like Duluth. So we always have to be at our best."

Dale Carnegie Training is an international, for-profit teaching business that boasts of more than 8 million graduates worldwide. It was established in 1912 and named for the self-improvement guru and author of "How to Win Friends and Influence People," one of the best-selling business books of all time.

Roz Randorf, a consultant for Carnegie in Duluth, said the new officers will receive the organization's standard 24-hour "Skills for Success" course. She said it will include the same content and principles as a class business executives might attend — though some language and scenarios may be tweaked slightly to tailor it to a law enforcement audience.

Randorf said she felt now would be a good time to test the course on officers, given the nationwide discussion over community-police relations in wake of numerous high-profile shooting incidents.

"There are all kinds of situations where communicating and building trust is critical to whether a situation escales or de-escalates," she said. "I think this will be be pretty transformational."

Tusken noted that the police department has consistently enjoyed the support of more than 70 percent of residents interviewed in National Citizen Surveys commissioned by the city.

But the chief said he views the Carnegie training as an opportunity to stay on the "cutting edge" of law enforcement, likening it to the recent department-wide training to recognize implicit bias and last year's deployment of less-lethal weapons that fire sponge rounds.

"We're starting from the platform of a lot of people approving of our service," he said. "But we pay rent on that everyday. We don't own it. As long as it took us to develop that, we can lose it just like that. So we need to stay ahead as a department."

The concept of Carnegie training for law enforcement began last year, when a partnership was forged with Global Peace Officer Development, a newly formed training organization founded in the Twin Cities by a retired police officer and a business executive.

Randorf said a cluster of police officers and commanders in the metro area were first assembled to test a pilot program, but Duluth will be the first outside agency to receive the training.

She said Carnegie's corporate office is offering the training to Duluth at a substantial discount and is keeping an eye on its progress. The department will pay $500 per recruit and officials are pursuing donations from businesses and benefactors to cover remaining costs.

Tusken said it's an opportune time to integrate the training. The incoming class consists of 15 new officers, which he said will be the largest group to join the department since at least 1970.

The recruits will receive the training near the end of the department's 10-week training academy, which gets underway next month.

If it's a success, Tusken said he could envision putting more officers through the training. The biggest hindrance, he said, is always cost.

"I'm excited for us to be able to look at things a little differently," he said. "We want to be looking at what we can do to continually enhance the work we do. We don't like to get mired in mediocrity and stay the status quo."

©2017 the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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