Chris Fonseca has known that he wanted to be a police officer since high school.
Since graduating with a degree in sociology of law, criminology and deviance in 2004, the idea of becoming a University of Minnesota Police Department officer has always been in the back of his mind. When he saw an open position listed online, he jumped on it.
Fonseca is one of three new officers hired by University police last November to fill vacant positions. He’s about halfway through the final training program, and if everything goes well, he’ll be a full officer in the next few months.
Fonseca was born in Texas, but his family moved to Prior Lake, Minn., when he was in fifth grade. His father was a volunteer firefighter, which Fonseca said motivated him to pursue law enforcement.
After graduating from the University, he worked at the Hennepin County Jail and then became a licensed Hennepin County Deputy Sheriff.
Fonseca began the University police application process last spring. He rode along with an officer during Spring Jam, which he said gave him a sense of what the job is like. It also reaffirmed his desire to do it.
“It was fun to see everyone out having a good time,” he said.
Making it through the hiring process
University police Chief Greg Hestness said the process of hiring new officers takes about nine months from application to field training.
There are typically about 100 applicants for openings that aren’t advertised, he said, and hundreds for those that are.
University police invites qualified applicants to a physical fitness event to perform strength, agility, speed and endurance exercises.
Next, remaining applicants participate in a preliminary panel interview with members of the police force and the community.
This time, Hestness said, University police chose about 10 applicants to move on to the next round, which includes a thorough background investigation.
After that round, Hestness and Deputy Chief Chuck Miner perform a final interview with the candidates who check out.
One aspect of the interview is determining whether the officer is suited for and truly interested in working as a police officer on campus. As a University police officer, Hestness said, an officer is not only responsible for law enforcement, but for the well-being of students. This includes dealing with issues that are more common on college campuses — mental health concerns and binge drinking, for example.
Fonseca said helping students is one reason he was drawn to University police. He said he wants to help students have a good experience at the University without worrying about crime.
Candidates who make it through the final interview undergo medical and psychological examinations to determine if they’re likely to be successful as an officer, Hestness said.
If the officers pass their exams, they begin a one-month orientation program in which they learn University policy and make connections with on-campus resources, like the Office for Student Affairs and the Aurora Center.
After orientation, the new officers begin a six-month training program in the field. They shadow a senior officer who has experience training new officers.
Fonseca is about halfway into his training program. Working with his training officer has been a good experience, he said, but it’s also been stressful.
“You’re being critiqued on everything you do,” he said. “You want to do everything right.”
Increasing UMPD’s ranks
The number of officers University police employs has changed over the years. Hestness said that the number peaked at about 70 in the 1960s and was as low as 35 in the 1990s. Today, the force has 50 officers and still has one open position.
In light of the recent push to reduce crime, University administrators have considered increasing the number of officers. But Hestness said it’s important to make sure additional officers are necessary before deciding to hire.
Since last fall, University police officers have been working overtime in order to curb crime on campus. Hestness said the extra work has been successful, and there are currently no concrete plans to hire new officers.
If they do decide to hire more officers, he said, University police would have to present a plan to University administrators outlining how they’d be utilized.
Staying close to home
Bob Bryant, coordinator of undergraduate advising for the Department of Sociology, said about 10 to 20 percent of students in the sociology of law, criminology and deviance major go into police work.
With the exception of some students who want to become officers in big cities, Bryant said, many prefer to become officers close to home.
Fonseca said he’s excited to be an officer at the University, because he has such a strong connection to the area. Both he and his wife attended the University.
“I’ve always wanted to work somewhere where I have a relationship with the community,” he said.
Fonseca said one of his favorite parts of being a police officer at the University is that he gets to keep a connection with University athletics.
“I’m just a huge Gopher fan,” he said.