DEVILS LAKE-The highest number of students graduated from Lake Region State College's Peace Officer Training Program in 2015.
The 27 students who graduated from the program's 78th class today put the total number of graduates for 2015 at 100, topping 2014 by one student and 2012 by eight.
LRSC offers the one-semester training program in Devils Lake, Minot, Fargo and Grand Forks throughout the year. The next academy begins Jan. 19 in Minot, and openings are available, according to a news release.
Peace Officer Training Director Johnathan Maritato attributed a steady increase in interest for the program to people wanting to have a positive impact on their communities.
"Even though there has been so much bad media with law enforcement in general in the U.S., there are still people who want to make a difference," he said.
Training in additional sites was added over the years since the program was created 28 years ago.
According to data provided by LRSC spokeswoman Erin Wood, there were 27 graduates in 1998, and as more satellite locations were added,-first in Fargo and then in other cities in North Dakota-the number climbed.
The biggest jump in graduate numbers occurred in 2010 when the number climbed from 57 to 81.
Maritato has led the program since 2012 but attended and graduated from it in 2000. He said much of the training has remained the same, but changes have been made to reflect modern problems, including addressing human trafficking training, Taser certification and active shooter training.
Maritato said the need for more peace officers in North Dakota has also contributed to interest in the program. He added graduates often were hired at law enforcement agencies in the state before graduation day. He said eight students at Thursday's ceremony already have jobs lined up.
Fargo Police Chief Dave Todd said if Fargo continues to grow at the rate it is now, he would need to hire no less than five officers annually to keep the current ratio of 1.29 officers per 1,000 people. That projection is part of a 10-year plan formed at the request of the Fargo city administrator, but Todd said the numbers could change.
"Who knows? Maybe we'll grow faster or slower, and after three, four or five years, we may have to adjust this, but if it stays the same, that's what we would need," he said.
The Fargo Police Department hired nine officers this year and plans to hire five in 2016 and Todd said programs like the one LRSC officers, which also includes a two-year degree in law enforcement that includes the training program, are important in order to fill those spots.
"My goal is to keep these numbers high and help the agencies we're partners with and other agencies across the state and fulfill the need across the state," Maritato said.