Former NFL player, child care provider benefit from Minnetonka PD cadet program
A west metro police department is wrapping up the first year of a new program aimed at recruiting officers.
The Minnetonka Police Cadet Program gives those interested in law enforcement hands-on experience as they go to school. The cadets respond to calls, transport inmates and support officers in a number of other capacities as part-time members of the force.
“I’ve always had this simple passion for law,” said Justin Johnson, a cadet who joined the program in May. “Why a crime was committed, trying to get an understanding of why certain things happen, trends.”
As he goes out into the community as a cadet, he works to connect with others.
“I’m all about community,” Johnson said. “I’m all about service and I feel like half of serving is communication.”
It’s Johnson’s second career. The Alabama native spent years on the football field first, from a championship high school team to Mississippi State University, where he played tight end as he earned a degree in criminology, to playing for the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals in the NFL, to the USFL New Orleans Breakers.
“I played my last game beginning of May and by the end of May, I was interviewing for this,” he said.
Johnson explained his professional football career inspired the change.
“Being an athlete you deal with law enforcement all the time with escorts and them protecting us when we’re traveling,” he said. “You realize they’re just like you. They’re the same people, they just have a different job title. That for me was big in identifying that and just building a relationship just being around them.”
One of his favorite aspects about policing is meeting people he otherwise wouldn’t encounter.
“Football and policing have a similar kind of lifestyle as far as the hours you’re putting into it, the interactions you have with people and the adrenaline,” said Johnson.
He’s one of four cadets the Minnetonka Police Department has hired since the program began at the beginning of 2023. One of the cadets has already transitioned into a full-time police officer job. The other three will have the opportunity to do so once they complete their training and education.
“It’s no secret that recruiting in policing has been a challenge lately, so this is just another tool we’re using to recruit good candidates, send them to school, they come to work for us on a part-time basis, we get to learn a lot about them, they get to learn a lot about us,” said Deputy Chief Jason Tait.
Tait explained the program provides tuition assistance to help the cadets complete the required degree, while also providing them hands-on field experience.
“They wear radios, they respond to calls by themselves,” he said. “You’ll see them driving around in vehicles, responding to calls, solving a multitude of different problems.”
Elizabeth Mohr applied for one of the positions after spending 14 years as an in-home child care provider.
“I knew this was what I wanted to do,” she said, explaining a career in law enforcement had been in the back of her mind since she was a girl. “When I got that phone call for the interview, I’m pretty sure I screamed louder than I ever have in my life.”
Mohr joined the department eight months ago as part of the first round of cadets.
“Honestly I thought I would be dealing with a stalled car or a parking ticket here or there,” she said. “I did not think it would entail as much as it does. We’re helping on accidents, or taking care of animal complaints.”
She added, “Being able to be out in the community and help them on a larger scale is exactly what I wanted to do.”
Mohr expects to finish her two-year degree and move into an officer position in the summer of 2025.
“Part of our goal in creating the program was finding unique stories out there, you know interesting life experiences because in law enforcement there’s so many different things you deal with,” said Tait. “Those different life experiences they bring to the table are really going to help them in this career. From the patience that Liz learned from being a childcare provider and working on a team like Justin did, those are two really strong qualities we look for in any police candidate.”
Johnson has about four months left in the cadet program and then he’ll take the POST Board exam. He and his wife, who is from Minnesota, are putting down roots in Minnetonka.
“I want to be as comfortable as possible to do [policing] and this is giving me the opportunity,” he said of the program. “It’s been life-changing for me.”