ST PAUL, Minn. — Several new challenges have been brought to the law enforcement industry in recent years.
It’s one of many reasons why police departments nationwide have struggled to recruit new officers to join the force.
In response to this concerning trend, Minnesota lawmakers unveiled a new proposal on Thursday to bolster law enforcement as a profession. Senate Republicans say their ideas will help recruit and retain officers.
Their C.O.P.S. program, which stands for Creating Opportunities in Public Safety, is a series of six bills that total around $65 million in funding.
“Police officers have always trudged along and done this hard and dangerous work, because they were serving a community that appreciated their service, but now they're not sure the sacrifice is appreciated. They're not sure the risks they are taking are worth it,” Republican Senator Karin Housley says.
The $65 million dollars is broken up into six main ideas:
- $20 million for a Workforce Scholarship Program
- $20 million in grant money for students
- $20 million in bonuses for officers (where officers will receive $10,000 if they land a job and stay on the job for more than a year)
- $2.5 million tuition reimbursement
- $1.5 million for Pathways Program
- $1 million advertising campaign
But will these ideas actually work?
Law enforcement expert Dr. Cedric Alexander is hopeful that these ideas will help bring in new recruits.
"I feel very good about this,” Alexander says. “I think they are very creative ideas and those ideas often times have to be generated, explored and eventually tested to see if they work.”
Alexander has more than 40 years of experience in law enforcement and public policy. He says officer recruitment and retention has been a big problem for several years.
“This was going on long before the pandemic started,” Alexander explains.
The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association says police departments have seen a big drop in applicants in recent years.
And that drop started more than a decade ago.
For example, according to their numbers, the Saint Cloud Police Department received 340 applicants in 2010.That number dropped to 93 applicants in 2015, and then dropped again to just 30 applicants in 2021.
Dr. Alexander says there are several factors that can explain why this trend is happening.
"We've had major civil unrest across the country. We've been dealing with a pandemic, that we are still dealing with in this country,” Alexander explains.
But possibly the biggest reason is this new generation of job seekers is so different than previous generations that are now starting to leave law enforcement through retirement and resignation.
"People are changing jobs at a much rapid rate than ever before," Alexander says. "We have young people coming up who may not necessarily hang around for 20 or 30 years on the job. We have to come up with creative ways in order to retain good talent.”
Alexander says the ideas that are being discussed at the Minnesota State Capitol should make police departments more competitive compared to other outside industries that have also struggled with staffing shortages.
He says many of those industries have used these same exact strategies and have found success.
However, alongside these new recruiting strategies, Alexander says law enforcement agencies need to change the job itself to adapt to this new generation of recruits and the communities they serve.
"What is it we want our police officers to do? How do we better recruit? How do we make sure the job is competitive? And how do we make sure that we train them based on 21st century ideals? And we have to pay attention to what our community is asking for us," Alexander says.
Thursday morning Minnesota House Democrats also announced they too are working on some new bills to help with recruiting. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler says those ideas will be announced in the coming days and they look forward to working with Senate Republicans on this issue.
So, at this moment it appears that both parties share the same goal, but time will tell whether or not both parties can agree on a path to reach that goal.
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