With the room’s lights shining off some two dozen police badges on Tuesday, Opus Hall on St. Thomas’ Minneapolis campus might have been about the safest place in the Twin Cities.

More than 50 police chiefs and officers, as well as many of their former teachers, gathered for a celebration for the 35th anniversary of St. Thomas’ master’s in public safety and law enforcement leadership. Many of the program’s notable alumni were on hand to recognize what has been a leader in law enforcement education since its inception in 1980.

“I’m very proud of this program. I’m proud of the accomplishments of the officers, the differences they’re making in their communities,” director Deb DeMeester said. “They are out serving the public every single day.”

St. Thomas Public Safety’s Bill Carter – who was one of the first two graduates from the program and later served as director – and Ramona Dohman, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, both were given alumni awards for their contributions to the program and achievement in the field, respectively.

“It makes me feel very excited, the fact I have had the privilege of helping shape education … and the advancement of police. It’s a good feeling,” Carter said. “It’s a good feeling when we see our graduates on the news, seeing them at meetings and learning the great things they’re doing. Knowing St. Thomas is an integral part of their lives, somehow.”

The master’s program has evolved throughout its 35-year history – most recently in 2013 with its offering of a fully online degree – and enjoyed great success throughout. Growing from a smaller program in its early years focused on training teachers for police education to the leadership-based curriculum today, St. Thomas’ alumni base boasts nearly 30 current chiefs of police throughout the metro area, as well as several retired chiefs and other prominent law enforcement leaders.

“It makes you proud to be part of something that has had such a long life, and a vibrant life,” said Rick Mathwig, Roseville police chief and alum.

Non-online students work through the two-year program in cohorts, receiving a level of education and training that, in today’s atmosphere of public service, is as valuable as ever.

“The need for having leaders who can think critically, act wisely and advance the common good is ever present,” Carter said. “As long as the university continues to be responsive to the needs of the field, to be respectful to the needs of the police … it will continue to be a very successful program.”

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