The struggle to recruit and retain police officers ‘all boils down to leadership’

Police recruiting and retention is one of three priorities the Minnesota House GOP unveiled Tuesday in an effort to address rising crime.

National guardsmen stand outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department during unrest following the death of Daunte Wright. (Lorie Shaull/Flickr)

Law enforcement experts say leadership is to blame for why police agencies are struggling to recruit and retain officers.

A source told Alpha News that since August 2020, the Brooklyn Center Police Department has lost 28 officers, including 11 who were hired to help diversify the department. That’s more than half of the Brooklyn Center police force. Since then, the department has only hired five officers.

Minneapolis has also lost more than half of its patrol officers, whose ranks are now down to 268 officers spread across five precincts and three shifts.

According to St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell, his department is down about 100 officers.

“That all boils down to leadership that’s going on at the local, state and federal level. They’re using law enforcement as a political football,” said Jim Mortenson, executive director of Law Enforcement Labor Services.

Mortenson said the Kim Potter case was the catalyst for the police shortage in Brooklyn Center.

One source told Alpha News that during the first night of the violent protests in Brooklyn Center, officers felt like they were left to fend for themselves and many of them thought it would be their last day.

Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis President Sherral Schmidt agrees that the “politicization of the law enforcement profession” is contributing to the police shortage.

She said the three former Minneapolis police officers who were found guilty of violating George Floyd’s civil rights last week “are political pawns.”

“The politicization of the law enforcement profession will have lasting negative consequences, and cause many good officers to question: is this job worth their freedoms?” Schmidt said.

From left to right, former Minneapolis police officers Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng. (Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office)

Mortenson noted that as police officers leave in droves across the state, criminals are emboldened. Minneapolis and St. Paul had roughly 140 homicides last year and more than 600 carjackings.

House GOP unveils public safety priorities

Police recruiting and retention is one of three priorities the Minnesota House GOP unveiled Tuesday in an effort to address rising crime.

“There’s fewer people out in the streets to investigate the crimes that are committed and most importantly to prevent crimes that are being committed,” Rep. Paul Novotny, R-Elk River, said during a press conference.

Novotny said officer openings that used to attract hundreds of applicants in the suburbs are now attracting just dozens.

The recruitment and retention plan calls for education reimbursement grants for officers, grants to attract new officers from nontraditional backgrounds, and retirement tax exemptions for police officers and firefighters.

Republicans also proposed a crime prevention and accountability plan, which would increase the use of ShotSpotter technology and body cameras while mandating harsher sentences for criminals. Specifically, the plan would create a new carjacking offense, increase penalties for repeat offenders, outlaw gun possession for certain violent criminals, increase penalties for fleeing a police officer, and create a catalytic converter database in the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Republicans’ third priority addresses transparency and accountability in the justice system. Their proposals would require felony charges to be filed if there’s probable cause, direct county attorneys to report on cases where charges are dropped, and mandate legislative approval for any efforts to lower sentencing guidelines.

Gov. Tim Walz has also unveiled a plan for public safety. It calls for $300 million in public safety grants and another $30 million would go toward preventing violent crime in the hardest-hit cities.