Alexandria College's law enforcement training houses mimic real-world experience

Law enforcement students use the buildings to train for various scenarios, from search warrant procedures and perimeter checks to domestic issues and crime scene investigations.

Law enforcement students searching building
Alexandria Technical and Community College law enforcement students Anna Weiss, left, and AJ Hellkamp take photos of a gun they found while searching a training house at the college on Wednesday, March 1, 2023.
Lowell Anderson / Alexandria Echo Press

ALEXANDRIA — The work environment of a police officer can be dangerous and unpredictable. The calls they receive often bring them to people who are having the worst days of their life and each situation is never the same.

The instructors for Alexandria Technical and Community College's law enforcement do their best to teach what they can in the class about handling those situations but those unpredictable variables are hard to convey through books and lectures, which is why on the southwest corner of 18th avenue east and Nokomis street in Alexandria, there are three buildings with the sole purpose of bringing those real-world situations into a controlled realistic training environment.

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Prop weapons and paraphernalia are hidden throughout the make-shift apartment for search warrant scenarios.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

The only thing the buildings do not have is plumbing.

The students use the buildings to train for various scenarios, from search warrant procedures and perimeter checks to domestic issues and crime scene investigations.

One structure models a two-bedroom apartment outfitted with donated furniture, non-working appliances and clothes donated by the Klothes Kloset and Someplace Safe that could not be sold as they were either stained or tattered.


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The closet in the training apartment is filled with items to make the students' experience more realistic.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

The extra details add to the realism of the scenarios because when cops are searching through homes, they aren't going through empty rooms, closets or drawers. Stumpf said they will sometimes even doctor up undergarments to look "disgusting."

"Then they are like, 'Oh, this is disgusting.' Welcome to searching people's houses. You're going to find stuff that is intimate, you're going to find stuff that is gross... It just adds to the realism," said Scott Stumpf, law enforcement instructor with ATCC. "We can talk about it in the classroom as much as we want but this is much like an apartment that officers are going to respond to."

Law enforcement students searching building
Alexandria Technical and Community College law enforcement student, Garrett Everrett, searches a drawer during a training exercise at a house at the college on Wednesday, March 1, 2023.
Lowell Anderson / Alexandria Echo Press

Prop weapons and paraphernalia are even used to add the effect. Actors — some of whom are law enforcement — are even brought in to portray victims or criminals for certain scenarios. Following instructions from the instructors, the actors may become confrontational with the student officer. Stumpf explained that other students are not used because the students may react differently with a peer than they would with a stranger.

The training goes beyond appearance. Stumpf said when students are simulating search warrant procedures, they go through all the steps they would have to in real life.

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Scott Stumpf stands in one of the training building's kitchens.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

Students have to interview actors to gain probable cause, write up an affidavit and then present it to the instructors who act as a judge who signs off on the warrant.

"We look through it (the affidavit) and we'd say, 'Nope, you're not getting a search warrant, because you're missing this.' Or, 'Yeah, you got everything. Here's a search warrant," explained Stumpf.

Then the students have to plan out how they will administer the warrant, from organizing a perimeter team to how they are going to safely approach their entry. The students are then given a list of what they are searching for.

"We explain to the students that some things are contraband, and some things aren't," said Stumpf. "If you find a gun, and the person is not prohibited from owning guns, we run the serial number, make sure it's not stolen, but it's not contraband. If the person is a convicted felon, for example, they can't possess a firearm and you find a firearm, well, now it's contraband."


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A knife on the counter could be evidence during a crime scene investigation scenario.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

On the other side of the first structure is a model bar with two efficiency apartments above it — outfitted with furniture that fits with the environment.

"Look at downtown Alexandria. Almost every business has an apartment above it," said Stumpf. "We wanted like a bar room or a commercial (building) but we also wanted the officer to go upstairs to an apartment because they are going to have to do that. It helps them train on moving up stairs with or without a weapon."

Across the "street" are the two other structures — both of which are still under construction. One is a model of a house with a garage and an upstairs with multiple bedrooms on both floors.

"The whole idea of the layout is to give them a single-family residence and apartment complex and a business to try and put as much into a small package as we can," said Stumpf.

The third building features a maze of corridors for future police officers to practice entering a building with tight spaces, maneuvering around corners and entering rooms with doors that swing in or out.

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Scott Stumpf overlooks the maze of corridors students use for corner maneuvering.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

That building will eventually be outfitted with automated shooting targets — designed and made by the school's mechatronics program in collaboration with the welding program. There is a walkway above for instructors to observe their students. Live rounds are never used during the scenarios. Instead they use Simunition ammo — ammo that fires non-lethal, non-toxic plastic rounds.

"All of these buildings are replacements for what we lost. So we're not really getting anything new," said Stumpf

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Shown here is one of several training houses for law enforcement students at the Alexandria Technical and Community College.
Lowell Anderson / Alexandria Echo Press

He explained that while the buildings themselves are new, it's not the first time the college has had these types of training facilities. The previous buildings were located on the same property of Pope/Douglas Waste Management — part of the property was owned by ATCC. They sold it to the waste facility in 2020. The old buildings were removed in May of 2021.


By Michael Seymour, ATCC President

"It's new in the sense, we've improved on it," said Stumpf and added that the previous training buildings had wear and tear from being used for over 20 years.

The new buildings were mostly constructed by students in the carpentry program who used the project as part of their curriculum. They even built the cabinets found in the building. They feature cement floors which are easier to clean than the previous buildings' carpet floors and walls made from a plastic-coated plywood — a much more durable option than the previous drywall that had much damage after years of use.

"It's all a collaborative of trying to keep things in house as much as possible," said Stumpf on the various school programs involved in developing the training facilities. "Not only for their training and education but we're (also) keeping cost down significantly."

The training buildings are not just for students, either. Law enforcement agencies can come and use them for their own training like drug dog searches and SWAT exercises.

With around 80 first-year students and about 60 second-year students, Stumpf said for the first time in his 16 years of teaching at ATCC, enrollment of law enforcement students is down. He attributes the low enrollment to society's current negative depiction of law enforcement.

"Some of it is our own doing but some of it is the idea that law enforcement is not here to help... I've always been blessed to work in areas that support law enforcement," said Stumpf, who worked for the Alexandria Police Department prior to teaching. "But, we still have students who say, 'Regardless of how bad it gets, this is what I want to do.' And I'm appreciative for that."

Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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