Police recruits plummet at community college training programs

It’s tougher than ever to be a cop in the era of the defund the police movement that started in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd in police custody. It may be an even tougher job these days finding candidates to fill law enforcement’s depleted ranks, as well as recruits to apply to training programs to become cops.

The dramatic decline in attendees has even hit the once-popular community college law enforcement programs in northern Minnesota, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

It’s a career popularized locally in the 1970s, when Hibbing became one of the first three community colleges in the state to offer a program that put cadets in working uniforms within two years of starting post-secondary school.

Back then, job openings in Northeastern Minnesota would draw hundreds of applicants, sources said. Cadets in the area’s schools, including Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet, generally had to matriculate to other places after graduation and find their way back home, if that was their preference, after gaining experience.

While support for law enforcement remains strong locally, there’s a hesitation among families that would traditionally have been gung-ho. Not over the choice of a career in law enforcement, but over whether the additional risks that now go with the job make it worthwhile.

The resulting societal reexamination of policing has hit the local colleges hard — a development that has had cascading impacts on agencies recruitment of new officers.

“Which mom and dad are going to allow their kids to do it if they watch national media?” Hibbing Community College’s Brent Bradley, law enforcement program director and instructor, said, describing cadets as mostly traditional students who are leaving home for the first time.

“I can see parents telling them, ‘Why don’t you wait?'” he added.

The trend does not bode well for the community college programs or for the police departments that depend on their graduates to replenish their ranks. Law enforcement training programs in the community colleges on the iron range face a shortage of applicants like never before.

The latest numbers detail the first signals locally of a particular impact of Floyd’s death: Fond du Lac’s cadet numbers are down, by roughly half, from recent figures, and Hibbing only features 12 first-year students, when normally the school attracts 30-35.

“In our heyday, we had a couple hundred students walking around on campus at various points of their law enforcement degree, and we were graduating 65-70, even as high as 80,” said Wade Lamirande, Fond du Lac’s law enforcement program coordinator. “We’ll have roughly 20 after skills graduation this summer.”

No wonder Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey frets over the challenge of hiring nearly 200 police officers to meet a court order. With recruits down at some of the most reliable training programs in the state, where will they come from?