St. Paul PD grows to largest size ever; adds nation's first Karen officer

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The largest class in more than three decades graduated from the St. Paul Police Department Thursday night – and among them is an officer breaking ground for his community.

KSTP reports the 47 new recruits bring the ranks to 615, the largest number of officers in the history of the state's second-largest police department.

In that class, the Pioneer Press reports, is Ler Htoo, believed to be the first Karen police officer in the U.S.

"I want to help the community that I live in and do something that interests me," Htoo told the Pioneer Press.

The Karen people are native to southeast Asia, with many living in the Burma/Myanmar region, the Karen Buddhist Dhamma Dhutta Foundation says. There are an estimated 8,500 Karen in Minnesota. The ethnic group was persecuted in its native Myanmar.

The Star Tribune had more about Htoo, who came of age in refugee camps in Thailand. At 18, he and his family moved to St. Paul. He graduated from Hennepin County Technical College after studying law enforcement and became a member of the police department’s community liaison program, which assisted St. Paul’s Karen community to navigate the laws and customs of a new country.

“We have had a number of conversations about how to get a Karen person on the force, about how to improve cultural competency. This is a huge breakthrough for the community and for Ler, too,” Chong Vang, executive director of the Karen Organization of Minnesota, told the Star Tribune.

Large, diverse class of officers

The Pioneer Press says about one-third of the new officers are military veterans, including a Purple Heart recipient. More than a quarter of the recruits are people of color.

This is the second class of new officers to be certified in crisis-intervention training, a communications method for officers responding to someone experiencing a mental-health crisis. The graduates now begin a 16-week field-training program where they will be paired with veteran officers.

A high number of retirements this year prompted the larger class of recruits.

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