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Nicolet College's Criminal Justice program much more than law enforcement training


Sept. 21, 2012
Time was when a person could start a career in law enforcement with little more than a high school diploma. Those days are no more.

"Law enforcement officers today have to undergo extensive training to work in the field," Nicolet College Criminal Justice Instructor Phil Schmidt told the college's Board of Trustees. "Increasingly, Nicolet is providing this higher level of training right here in the Northwoods."

Schmidt gave the report to the board during the trustee's regular September monthly meeting. Along with the two-year associate degree in Criminal Justice, which the college has offered for many years, the college now offers numerous other training opportunities and academic credentials, he explained.

These include:
- The 520-hour Law Enforcement Academy, which is required by the Wisconsin Department of Justice in order for personnel to be certified to work in law enforcement.
- a one-year technical diploma in Corrections.
- a 160-hour Jail Academy.
- and more than 30 Continuing Education classes for those already working in the field.

Recruit Academy"In the past, local agencies had to send people to other parts of the state to get this training," Schmidt said. "That meant they had to pay for travel, lodging and meals, which can get costly, especially for the more in-depth training which is held over a longer length of time. It's a definite cost savings for local agencies to get this training right in the Northwoods." >Nicolet Board Trustee Bob Egan, who formerly chaired the Vilas County Law Enforcement and Emergency Management Committee, said that having this training available locally has resulted in significant savings for Vilas County. "I know for the Jail Academy alone, we were saving $2,000 to $3,000 per student. That can really add up over time," he said. Nicolet has offered the Jail Academy since 2008 in partnership with the Vilas County Sheriff's Department, which hosts the training at the Vilas County Jail. The benefits are also more than just monetary. The instructors in just about every Nicolet offering have worked in the Northwoods and know first-hand the unique challenges of the region. "We need to train people for rural policing," he said. "That's a much different approach than what you will get if you went to, say, Milwaukee, for training."

Schmidt went on to explain to the board that along with teaching the technical skills students need to work in law enforcement, he also strives to instill a sense of community service in the curriculum. "That's really what law enforcement is all about," said Schmidt, who served with the Oneida County Sheriff's Department for 22 years before joining Nicolet in 2009.

Over those years he's served on numerous hiring committees and he would frequently ask candidates why they wanted to be in law enforcement. A common answer was that they wanted to serve their community. "Then I would follow up and ask for examples of how they have served their communities in the past. More often than not I would get this blank look. They couldn't give any examples. That always made me question their level of commitment," he said.

If Nicolet Criminal Justice graduates are ever asked that question in an interview, they will have no problem giving multiple examples. Every year students in Schmidt's classes volunteer many hundreds of hours to numerous community events, most commonly helping with security and parking.

These events include the Tomahawk Fall Ride, Minocqua's Beef-A-Rama, the Living History Encounter in Eagle River, 4th of July parades, and area Halloween events.

"I'm very proud of the Criminal Justice program and a lot of that has to do with the quality of the graduates that come out of the program," he said.