EAU CLAIRE — Melissa Diedtrich stood out from her 16 fellow Chippewa Valley Law Enforcement Academy graduates. She was elected class leader, was also a squad leader, and selected to be one of the speakers to speak at the Dec. 20 graduation ceremony.
The fact that she was a 37-year-old mother of three in a class of 20-somethings also made her stand out. The close-knit group affectionately gave her the nickname "Mom." It suits her well, as serving others seems to be woven into Diedtrich's personality.
"I feel like I was put on this Earth to be a public servant," Diedtrich said. "Serving my community is really important to me."
Being a law enforcement officer in Wisconsin takes a great deal of training. The Academy graduates needed to complete 60 hours of college credits to qualify for admission. Many go through CVTC's two-year Criminal Justice-Law Enforcement program, or through a university or other technical college.
CVTC Associate Dean of Emergency Services Eric Anderson said the 720-hour academy instructs the recruits in six areas: policing in America, tactical skills, patrol procedures, legal context, relational skills and investigations. Anderson noted the Academy is unforgiving by state law. A student who fails a test has one chance to re-take it. A second failure means dismissal from the academy.
Completion of training at a Law Enforcement Academy is required to become certified as a law enforcement officer in Wisconsin. However, officers can start work with a department before completing the training. While most graduates attend on their own, some are sponsored by departments that have already hired them.
Diedtrich already had the college credits for Academy admission, as she went to college and became an elementary school teacher.
"Then I was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years," Diedtrich said. "When my youngest entered kindergarten, I thought it was time to go back to school, but I didn't want to go back into teaching."
Diedtrich, who moved with her family to River Falls five years ago, became involved in the community, serving as president of a parent-teacher organization at her children's school.
"I also did some emergency dispatching for Pierce County, but I went into the Law Enforcement Academy with almost no background at all," Diedtrich said.
Dietrich has been working in a volunteer reserve officer position for the River Falls Police Department and appeared at the graduation in uniform.
"In the job, you're always learning and learning as you go," Diedtrich said of police work. "It will always be an interesting job."
The guest speaker for the Academy graduation was David H. Perlman, an assistant attorney general with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, who congratulated the graduates on their achievement.
"You will be called upon to make quick and dramatic decisions," Perlman said. "The academy you finished was intense and demanding because what you are called upon to do is intense and demanding."