TRAVERSE CITY — Four opened envelopes landed on Alan Hart’s desk this week, each one touting a job opening for a police officer.
“Just out of the blue, they showed up on my desk,” said Hart, director of Northwestern Michigan College’s Police Academy. “There are 4,000 job openings in Michigan, including locally, and there’s just not enough good candidates.”
Hart wants to get the word about the NMC Police Academy, an unsung program that enrolls just nine students, about a third of its capacity.
“I think the biggest problem is a lack of knowledge we have the program,” Hart said. “People call me and ask, ‘Where’s the nearest police academy.’ I tell them, ‘It’s here.’”
The Academy is a two-year associate degree program, but takes only one year if the student already possesses a degree, said Hart, Kalkaska County’s sheriff from 1977-87.
Adam O’Brien, 25, will graduate from the academy this spring. His inspiration to be a police officer came from his dad, Jeff O’Brien, a Traverse City Police Department sergeant.
But it was only after losing significant weight that a police career became a real option.
“I just started moving and eating less,” he said. “I got a job at Meijer, working in the back room, unloading the trucks, so I lost 110 pounds about a year and a half ago.”
O’Brien, 25, already had an NMC associate’s degree, so he’ll complete the program in a year. He and others first had to pass a physical agility test to get in. He trained for it and passed, but several other applicants didn’t make the mark, he said.
He was set to take another progress test this week. Men in his age group — under the age of 29 — must run a half-mile under 4 minutes and 29 seconds, do 32 push-ups in a minute, 30 sit-ups in a minute, and do a 17.5 inch vertical jump.
“I had to really train hard to get 32 push-ups in a minute,” he said.
O’Brien said he most enjoyed weekend firearms training at Camp Grayling.
“It’s very serious and very strict, but when you get down to it, the vast majority of us love shooting guns,” he said. “I went from never shooting to passing all the standards and going above and beyond.”
O’Brien intends to work locally, where he said beginning salaries are in the $35,000 to $40,000 range, depending on the department.
“If you’re willing to move away you can make a boatload right out of the gate. I know a lot of places out West, you can get 60 grand to start out,” he said.
O’Brien said the program is rigorous and has loved every minute of it.
“It’s even the things people think are dry, learning the law,” he said. “It’s a huge benefit to know how to look up Michigan law.”