Sgt. Brian Wilson of the Cottage Grove, Mn., Police Department says that when people see him parked out front of a house, they don’t assume he’s there to make an arrest or investigate a crime, reports the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Because of the public safety department’s unusual practice of cross training its officers in police and paramedic services, they know he could be there to save a life.
The merits of cross training police officers as paramedics and firefighters have long been debated. While it’s becoming more difficult to recruit officers for double duty, some local suburbs wouldn’t have it any other way. The Twin Cities metro area has a long history of cross training police officers in other public safety fields. The St. Paul Police Department was the first to have its officers wear two hats when it began it police ambulance service in 1914. That service lasted until 1974. Today, smaller communities are more likely to have police officers serve dual roles, said Paul Schnell, a spokesman for the St. Paul department.
Three communities in the state have police-paramedic services with 52 officers serving as paramedics. There are no definite figures on how many communities have police officers serving as firefighters, but it is common in communities with their own police departments and volunteer or “on call” fire departments.
In Cottage Grove, more than half of the city’s 36 police officers also work as paramedics, while several more have paramedic training but no longer answer medical calls. The city began the program in 1976 because it couldn’t get any local ambulance service to commit to an ambulance and paramedics in the city 24 hours a day.
Now the city maintains a minimum of two police paramedics on duty at all times. While the training and recruiting of officers willing to serve a dual role cost more than contracting for ambulance service, it maintains the level of service residents expect.