Lethbridge College is celebrating 50 years of Policing education. To celebrate, the college is highlighting five alumni from five different decades to show how the program has evolved. To learn more about Policing education at Lethbridge College visit learn.lc/justice-human-services.
Munson blazes her own trail
Sometimes, just a few conversations can completely change someone’s life. For Maria Munson, it was discussions with her high school’s resource officer that led her to pursue a career in policing.
“She was an intelligent, confident, fit and well-spoken women,” says Munson. “I admired her as a strong female in what was typically a male-dominated field. She always took the time to speak to me about policing and encouraged my interest in a policing career.”
Munson showed confidence of her own, entering the college’s Criminal Justice program straight out of high school when she was just 18. Despite her youth, Munson thrived in the program, backed by a supportive faculty who left a lasting impression on her. She got her first taste of real police work during a practicum with the Lethbridge Police Service (LPS).
She had the opportunity to ride-along with multiple officers, which she says was an eye-opening experience – especially to learn about what policing during nightshifts is really like. She encourages current and future students to take full advantage of the practicum opportunities available to them.
Munson’s motivation and focus throughout her practicum did not go unnoticed, as LPS offered her a job. At 21 years old, she was a full-time police officer.
“I have always been a driven, ambitious and goal-orientated person,” she says. “I was absolutely thrilled to be offered the job at such a young age.”
She was the only female in her recruitment class and was by far the youngest person. Munson says working for LPS gave her a strong foundation in a busy environment and allowed her to respond to a variety of calls.
“I worked a one-man car, which allowed me to learn excellent officer safety skills and a quick ‘think on my feet’ response,” she says.
After two years with LPS, Munson decided to apply to the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) to be closer to her family. It meant learning a whole new skill set, as EPS had more members and more specialized departments. But that also meant more opportunities.
She says a highlight of her career is working in the Crime Scene Investigation Unit, doing forensics investigations. She took to the investigative side of policing naturally and began to specialize in forensics work. She became an expert in fingerprint identification and was promoted to the rank of detective/sergeant in 2019.
“The biggest reward in my policing career is being able to help others and make a difference in just a few people’s lives,” says Munson. “There are some people I have encountered that I will never forget.”
Now an experienced officer, Munson has a chance to be a role model to a new generation, just as her high school resource officer was to her as a young student.
“She’s still on the job and I’ve had the opportunity to work with her on several files,” says Munson. “I use her as an example of how I can be a mentor to younger candidates and recruits.”
International acclaim highlights Walper’s career
It’s not the type of call a Lethbridge police officer is used to taking – but it goes to show the unpredictability of policing.
A Guatemalan man suspected of war crimes was believed to be in southern Alberta, and international police services needed local help to find him and bring him in. Jason Walper, a 1995 graduate of Lethbridge College’s Criminal Justice program and a member of Lethbridge Police Services’ Integrated Intelligence Unit, rose to the challenge.
Working alongside the RCMP, Walper and his unit spent three months on the investigation and used covert surveillance to locate the man. The suspect was deported and Walper had a career case that had allowed him to both use his training and expand his skillset.
“In policing, you can have several jobs within the job,” says Walper. “Everyone starts their career as a uniform officer, but there many opportunities to work in specialized areas that require you to learn new skills and provide new challenges that keep you engaged and satisfied throughout your career.”
Becoming an officer was a lifelong dream for Walper, who grew up in Dawson Creek, B.C. He was just 19 when he entered the college’s Criminal Justice program in 1993.
“Lethbridge College provided me with a good foundation of what policing was and what to expect in the field of criminal justice,” remembers Walper. “It aided me to grow personally into an independent adult and develop life-long friendships with my classmates, many of whom have entered law enforcement themselves.”
While at the college, Walper paid close attention to the former Lethbridge Police Service (LPS) officers who taught in the program and the current officers who came in as guest speakers. Their enthusiasm led him to apply to LPS.
The policing world he entered then is much different than the one he occupies now. At that time, reports were mostly handwritten and tasks as simple as making a phone call or checking a database required returning to the station. Now, patrol vehicles are equipped with high-tech computers and everyone has a cell phone.
While the technology has changed, the heart of the job has not. “We’re often called upon to assist people who are in crisis and need someone to talk with, to provide insight into a problem or to simply answer questions,” says Walper.
And sometimes, there are situations that no amount of training can prepare them for. As a young constable, Walper was sent to remove a bat from the residence of two university students. Needless to say, he had never received “bat removal training” as a police recruit. “We used a couple of cardboard boxes to trap it, took it outside and released it into the night sky,” he remembers.
From trapping bats to tracking war criminals and everything in between, Walper, who is now an Inspector with LPS, has approached every task with the same set of values.
“I’ve been in a position to affect many people’s lives in a positive way,” he says. “In most cases when people have contact with police it is because something has gone wrong in their own lives. I pride myself on providing support, compassion and empathy to those people at a time when they need it most.”
Blumhagen’s path to the top began in Lethbridge
Lorne Blumhagen’s title is Chief of Police – a lofty recognition one achieves by always looking for the next challenge or opportunity. That’s been a constant theme throughout more than 30 years in policing.
Blumhagen’s path to becoming chief of the Lacombe Police Service began in 1985 in the then-named Lethbridge Community College’s (LCC) Law Enforcement program. The college came highly recommended by members from his hometown Camrose Police Service where Blumhagen had volunteered.
The friendships he formed early on at LCC were vital to his success as a student. “I met new people who were also away from home for the first time and we quickly formed alliances and friendships,” remembers Blumhagen. “Many of us joined the LEO Club and I also got a job at the Barn, which helped with paying expenses and was a great place for social activities. It also kept me fed since we got free food when we worked.”
He fondly recalls instructors Ken Reilly, Al Rudolph and Bob Palmer and the effect they had on him as a young student. In particular, he recalls court and evidence class and the scrutiny he faced trying to get evidence past “Judge” Rudolph.
“It taught me valuable lessons that I used later in creating court files, preparing and presenting evidence, and responding to counsel on cross examination,” says Blumhagen. “Those same lessons still apply to this day.”
His policing career began as an RCMP auxiliary constable before he switched course and completed recruit training with the Edmonton Police Service. He joined his hometown Camrose Police Service in 1992 as a general patrol officer and expanded his résumé, gaining experience in School Resource, Crime Prevention, Criminal Intelligence, Major Crimes, Undercover Surveillance and Drug Enforcement Operations. That experience led to his promotion to sergeant in 2005.
In that role, Blumhagen managed a policing team, oversaw the Major Crimes Unit and gained experience in multi-agency initiatives as well as homicide, sexual assault and professional standards investigations. His innovative methods and commitment to helping people led to two major career accolades as he received the Governor General’s Exemplary Service Medal in 2012 and the Queen Elizabeth Jubilee Medal in 2013 for initiatives in crime reduction and enforcement strategies.
Following more than 20 years in Camrose, Blumhagen embraced a new challenge in 2014, joining the Lacombe Police Service. In 2016, he was named acting chief, before assuming the full-time position as Chief of Police in 2017. He remains actively involved in a variety of provincial initiatives, and takes a special pride in his role as part of the Mental Health Police Advisory Committee.
After more than 30 years in policing, Blumhagen says it’s the people he’s met along the way who leave the strongest impression. He remains close with colleagues from the RCMP, Camrose Police and Edmonton Police Services, and fondly remembers his beginnings in Lethbridge.
“Many of the lessons learned during my time in Lethbridge served me well throughout my career,” he says. “Many of the people I met went on to have very successful careers in policing throughout Alberta and across the country.”
Valin’s training kept him safe over decorated policing career
Ron Valin’s career with the Lethbridge Police Service was almost over before it began – thanks to one wayward letter.
After graduating from Lethbridge College’s Law Enforcement program in 1975, he took a temporary job at a gas plant near Pincher Creek while he waited to hear back from the many job applications he had sent out. The Lethbridge Police Service (LPS) sent him a letter informing him that he was hired and telling him when he should show up for his first day of work – but he never received it.
When he didn’t show up as instructed, an LPS sergeant called his house to question why he wasn’t at work. Valin’s mom took the call, which kick-started a campaign to get word to him as quickly as possible. By that afternoon, he was working as a constable for the Lethbridge Police Service.
It was an eventful start to what became a decorated 25-year career with the LPS.
Valin’s passion for criminal justice began when he worked as a cell guard at the Pincher Creek RCMP Detachment during high school. The RCMP officers mentored Valin and inspired him to pursue a career in criminal justice. They also influenced him to apply to Lethbridge College’s Law Enforcement program in 1973.
Instructors such as Ken Riley and Bob Harrison made a lasting impression on Valin – he respected that both had entered the education field following successful careers in law enforcement and had high expectations for their students.
As a young police officer, Valin’s experiences felt shocking and sometimes even humorous – such as the time he had to arrest someone who was throwing prosthetic limbs at him. Other experiences were far more harrowing.
Once, while working with LPS/RCMP joint forces drug section, he stopped by the 5th Avenue and 5th Street station to pick up his paycheque, opened the back door and walked right into a scuffle in a stairwell between an LPS colleague and an escaped prisoner.
The prisoner had gained control of the member’s service revolver and was pointing it at the head of the officer. Valin used instinct, adrenaline and quick reflexes to grab and hold the barrel of the gun while the suspect fired several shots. Valin says the bullet holes remain in the concrete of the stairwell to this day.
“Everything happened so fast,” he remembers. “There is no doubt an officer would have been seriously injured or lost his life that day if I had not been in the right place at the right time.”
He says it’s a prime example of the intense interactions that police officers train for.
Another career highlight was working a case that led to the first successful rape conviction using DNA evidence in western Canada.
Valin served with LPS until his retirement in 2000. After 25 years of dedicated service, he retired with the rank of sergeant and head of the Criminal Intelligence Division.
“Law enforcement and the overall work of stopping the progress of the criminal element, was a considerable responsibility,” Valin said. “However, the reward was knowing that I played a role, for a very long time, in ensuring the safety of our community and its residents.”