Officer shortage spreads to police departments statewide

The discussion thus far over a shortage of applicants to be police officers has largely revolved around the vastly understaffed Minneapolis and St Paul police departments and other metro area forces. But just as the surge in violent crime has spread beyond the Twin Cities to Greater Minnesota, so has the lack of police recruits interested in making public safety a career.

The big city problem of finding and hiring qualified police officers has become a regional problem for public safety authorities in central Minnesota, according to the St. Cloud Times.

The St. Cloud Police Department received 82% fewer applications for police officers in 2021 compared to 2012.

“Our applications are down fairly significantly,” said Adam Meierding, a St. Cloud Police commander in charge of hiring. “Late last year [there were] five or six officers we were looking to hire. We ended up getting 11 applications … which is very low for us. We ended up giving four conditional offers from that list, so we weren’t even able to fill all the openings we have, which is concerning.”

St. Cloud Police Department is down 14 officers, a little over 10% of the department.

The police chief of nearby Waite Park blames the defund the police movement and vilification of cops that started in Minneapolis for much of the difficulty filling positions on his force and other departments statewide.

“I’ve been doing this job for 30 years, and I’ve really enjoyed my career. But if I was a young person thinking about policing today, and you see the images, you know, of law enforcement having bricks and bottles thrown at them and just kind of the narrative that’s out there — I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding about police use of force,” [Waite Park Police Chief Dave] Bentrud said. “And clearly, we have had some tragic situations that have happened. … The vast majority of contacts that we have with the public [are] where no force is used at all. So all of that says to a young person, why would I want to be a cop today?”

Bentrud said as calls for service are going up and staff rates are declining, it puts a heavier burden on staff who have to work overtime and don’t have as much time to decompress.

Not coincidentally, there’s also a drop-off in the number of students signing up for the criminal justice program at St. Cloud State University. The demands of the job combined with declining respect for those who do it make it an increasing tough sell for college age students.

Although the criminal justice program is one of the strongest programs at St. Cloud State University, enrollment numbers have declined in the past 10 years, most significantly in the last year and a half to two years, said Dr. Shawn Williams, the Professional Peace Officer Education Coordinator for St. Cloud State.

“This profession is not one is for the light of heart. Let’s be honest, this is not a profession for everyone,” Williams said. 

Although some people start their law enforcement education training later in life, most criminal justice students at St. Cloud State are between the ages of 18 and 20, he said. Some may face scrutiny from family and friends or the public pushing them to not go into the profession, which asks a lot of its employees to begin with.

The Minnesota Senate has passed a public safety measure that would provide $1 million for a peace officer recruiting program and marketing campaign to bolster the profession’s public image. Besides the stigma to overcome in attracting recruits, public safety officials also face stiff wage competition in a crowded job market.

Yet with rising crime rates and public safety a key issue statewide, there’s arguably more demand for police officers than ever, despite a relentless effort among far-left activists to do away with them.

“You know, it’s a fairly risky profession for not a ton of pay. And I think cities will have to look long and hard, you know. If you want to have a highly functioning police department that offers exceptional public service, we’re going to need to pay people to do this job in order to find the best of the best candidates,” Meierding said. “Could somebody go to the private sector and make just as much if not more money and not have the risk and liability of working in law enforcement? Sure. And so that’s something we’re competing with.”