ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota House proposal seeks to recruit cops of 'good moral character'

The legislation emphasizes attracting and retaining community-oriented law officers of “good moral character” and those who are underrepresented in the profession. Bill author House Majority leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said the bill was developed with the input of the state police chiefs and sheriffs associations.

IMG-6434.jpg
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, joined by Department of Public Safety Assistant Commissioner Booker Hodges, right, and DFL lawmakers, present legislation Monday, Feb. 21, 2022, to attract and retain new law enforcement officers.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service
We are part of The Trust Project.

ST. PAUL — Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers on Monday, Feb. 21, announced a law enforcement recruitment proposal to address a peace officer shortage affecting a quarter of agencies across the state of Minnesota.

The legislation emphasizes attracting and retaining community-oriented law officers of “good moral character” and those who are underrepresented in the profession. Bill author House Majority leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said the bill was developed with the input of the state police chiefs and sheriffs associations.

“The consistent thing I have heard from those law enforcement leaders has been that they are all trying to recruit officers who reflect their community, they are trying to recruit officers who have a high social-emotional set of skills (and) they want to recruit officers who are committed to community service,” Winkler told reporters at a news conference Monday announcing the legislative push. “The traditional pipelines for policing in Minnesota to provide those recruits have dwindled significantly,” he added.

The legislation calls for $13 million to establish an expedited peace officer training program, $2.6 million for scholarships and $800,000 for outreach. Programs would be run through the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. Benefits would include free tuition, living expenses, signing bonuses and a retention bonus after 18 months. Officers who complete the program would be required to work full-time in Minnesota six years after completing the program.

Winkler said a starting point for recruiting officers of good character is former Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom’s approach to screening new hires. From engaging with the community, Bostrom found that both the public and law enforcement wanted officers not just with integrity, but “cultural competency” and a service mindset. Winkler pointed to the St. Cloud Police Department as a good current example, where the chief favors candidates who volunteer in their communities.

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota law enforcement agencies have a 10-15% vacancy rate, with about 58 agencies seeking new officers, according to Department of Public Safety Assistant Commissioner Booker Hodges. Around one-quarter of agencies statewide are trying to fill between 1,200 and 1,500 positions, he said, and schools aren't producing enough new officers.

"Our state on average turns out 536 officers. So you think about that in our current vacancy rate right now, it’s going to take three years to fill those jobs,” Hodges said, adding that the issue is further complicated by 5-10% of officers being at or near retirement age. “You can see the magnitude of this problem,” he continued.

Hodges also said the state’s police force is inadequately diverse, with fewer than 200 Black officers and less than 450 being people of color — 4% of officers statewide.

“This program, if passed, given the opportunities we have in the vacancy rate, will allow us to have law enforcement agencies that are reflective of the communities that they serve,” he said.

Both Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature have stated a commitment to improving public safety in Minnesota as the state and the nation experience an uptick in violent crime. Democrats in January unveiled a $100 million public safety package that emphasizes a "community" approach, including programs to target the root causes of violent crime such as diversion programs for juvenile offenders.

Republicans have accused some Democrats of hurting officer recruitment and retention through their criticism of police departments and calls to cut law enforcement funding. Winkler challenged that characterization.

“Democratic leaders have consistently said we support law enforcement but we want law enforcement to serve the communities that they’re responsible for, and there has to be accountability as part of it,” he said.

Republicans have emphasized stiffening penalties for offenses such as carjacking and boosting funding for law enforcement recruitment. They have rolled out a $65 million recruitment proposal of their own in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, said Republicans remained committed to those priorities.

ADVERTISEMENT

"The most important thing public officials can do is show police officers the respect and appreciation they deserve for the risks they take every day as a part of their job," he said in a Monday afternoon statement. "Next, it’s important for us to work together on recruitment and retention initiatives to ensure our state has a highly trained and skilled pool of law enforcement professionals to keep our communities safe."

Sen. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove has introduced  companion legislation  in the Senate.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
What to read next
St. Louis County's flood response is moving into “recovery mode."
Corey Devon Young, 17, is already on probation after bringing a gun to school in May. Prosecutors will seek to have him tried as an adult.
Items found in a park along the Mississippi River in Stearns County led to a three-day search for missing 6-year-old Elle Ragin, of Northfield. The Stearns County Sheriff's Office is asking residents along the Mississippi River to keep an eye and report any items that may be related to the search.
Gov. Tim Walz and front-line workers on Wednesday encouraged essential workers who'd stayed on the job during the height of the pandemic to apply for hero pay through the state.