Glory Reitz—Staff Writer
Tom Prinsen approached the burglar in the dark backyard and eyed the man’s screwdriver, classifying it as a potential weapon. As he ran through de-escalation strategies in his head , he didn’t see the man’s accomplice sneaking around the fence with a gun.
“And you’re dead,” the deputy who ran the training simulation said.
The training for the Woodbury County Reserve Deputy Program is comprised of simulations like these.
Prinsen, a communications professor, offers rides to three criminal justice seniors who travel from the university to the training. Sometimes they eat at Chick-Fil-A after their session ends at 10:00 p.m.
During these one-hour road trips, Prinsen told the students of his interest in law enforcement and the military. When seventeen, a U.S. Army recruiter visited his house. While Prinsen, a cross country runner at the time, didn’t have an updated physical, the recruiter wasn’t concerned. But when he heard Prinsen’s eyes had a refractive error of negative eight, he closed his folders and left.
Prinsen considered the criminal justice program upon enrolling at Dordt, but his advisers discouraged him. So, he tried pre-optometry, then business, and eventually chose communication.
In 2016, he began teaching at Dordt with a Ph.D. and years of experience in public relations. A few years ago, he underwent LASIK eye surgery.
Three years ago, Prinsen mentored recently hired Instructor of Criminal Justice Jon Moeller, a retired police officer and FBI special agent.
Moeller mentioned to Prinsen how Woodbury County offered deputy training. The program’s graduates took on the responsibilities a deputy, except in drunk driving offenses. For Prinsen, the potential of being a sworn officer with a bachelor’s degree and patrolling experience looked good to him.
“Too bad it’s for students,” Prinsen said.
Moeller told him the program was open to anyone. Prinsen applied.
Prinsen said the training opened “a whole new world” to him. He began in August with classroom sessions and online training to learn “the book section,” including where to park in an emergency, how to look for signs of human trafficking, and how to legally search a person or vehicle. Now, as he’s moved on to firearms training and simulations, and Prinsen has found his groove.
“I think it’s good to have an idea of just how much you’re representing the sheriff’s office and law enforcement in general,” Prinsen said. “Any interaction that someone has [confirms] or [denies] what they think they know about law enforcement.”
He has appreciated de-escalation training and has received positive feedback for his clear communication, but he’s also learned some situations can’t be de-escalated on account of people determined on violence.
A significant amount of the training requires quick thinking and the ability to assess a situation. For example, failing to look around the yard during a burglary call could get Prinsen shot, but being cordial to a man with a wrench during a domestic dispute call could help avoid a fight. The simulations can feel real and bring real emotions, according to Prinsen, but he doesn’t mind the stress.
“I’m not good at relaxing,” Prinsen said. “My mind is always going [and deputy training is] time away from everything else… it’s just the time to do something new and different and stimulating.”
Prinsen also knows his deputization is not a duty to take lightly. He doesn’t see it as a hobby, but as another way to live out his calling to serve people by using good communication.
In a few weeks, he will take a certification test, and, if he passes, he will become a reserve deputy in Woodbury County. He looks forward to working at the Woodbury County fair and talking to children and showing them a friendly face in law enforcement.