Not yet old enough to buy his own handgun, 18-year-old is one of Minnesota's newest police officers
CLARA CITY, Minn. – A ride-along that Ethan Schwinghammer took as an eighth-grade student in the Brooten-Belgrade-Elrosa Schools set him on a career path that few of his peers are considering today.
Just a few months before his 19th birthday, Schwinghammer is a licensed police officer in Minnesota and working as a patrol officer in west-central Minnesota. He began duties as a part-time officer with the Clara City Police Department on Jan. 16. Since shortly after his 18th birthday in April, he has been and remains a community service officer with the nearby Willmar Police Department as well.
“I know I chose the right job because I like coming to work,” Schwinghammer said.
Fewer young people are pursuing law enforcement careers these days, making it difficult for departments across the state and nation to recruit new officers. The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association called attention to the issue last year.
At age 18, Schwinghammer is one of the younger officers on active duty in the state. He’s not old enough to buy his own handgun from a licensed federal firearms dealer under Minnesota law, although he’s licensed and trained and can legally own and carry one.
Clara City Police Chief Kimberly Wood said his youth did not concern her when Schwinghammer applied for a position on her force. She said he came highly recommended, and she liked the fact that he had experience as a community service officer.
Working alongside him showed her something equally important: “He’s a natural. No other way to put it,” Wood said.
He comes to the job with all of the schooling and training as would any other new officer.
Schwinghammer said he took advantage of Minnesota’s post-secondary enrollment option and began full-time studies at Ridgewater College in Willmar at the start of his junior year in high school. He continued with full-time studies through Ridgewater in both his junior and senior high years.
He graduated from BBE High School in 2018. He had continued to play sports and hang out with friends during his last two years in high school, while also keeping a part-time job and managing his full-time college courses.
Schwinghammer said he’s confident and ready for what comes his way on duty. “I’ve done the same schooling as anyone else,” he said.
His experience with community policing in Willmar has also been invaluable, he said. He has had lots of opportunities to learn from and work with experienced officers on the force.
He has two goals going forward. He hopes he can join the Willmar Police Department as a full-time officer in the future. He also plans to continue his schooling and earn a four-year degree, which opens up more career opportunities for him within the profession.
Schwinghammer said his career choice surprised some of his friends and classmates.
Yet for him, it was an easy choice. He wanted a profession where he could help others, get outside and have no two days alike.
That very first ride-along convinced him that law enforcement offered what he wanted, he said. It was taken as part of his eighth-grade civics class. He liked it enough that he did ride-alongs with other officers in the years that followed as well, he said.
Chief Wood said the new officer is working alongside a partner at this point, but she is confident he can handle any challenge on his own. She described him as very intelligent and as having a “good eye” for spotting problems.
His enthusiasm for community service policing fits well with the work he will be doing, she added. “He’s very approachable and community-oriented, and that is the cornerstone of our department, community policing.”