Sheriff cuts patrols due to shortage of deputies

There’s a lot of talk about a labor shortage in schools, businesses and industry across the board. But the labor crunch that should arguably concern the public more than any other is the lack of qualified applicants in law enforcement.

It’s not just talk in one southern Minnesota county. The Albert Lea Tribune says the Freeborn County sheriff’s office has informed the county board that a dire shortage of deputies means no service will be available for two hours a day, maybe more in the near future.

Sheriff Kurt Freitag told commissioners during a workshop that the department is presently down four patrol deputies out of 10, and in the jail the department is down seven out of 24 deputies and is anticipating losing another individual in the near future. 

Because of this, the county is presently only able to provide service for 22 out of 24 hours coverage in a day, and if the department loses another deputy, they may only be able to provide 20. It will request mutual aid as needed to fill the gap.

“If we have someone go out on an injury, we’re in dire straits,” Freitag said. 

It’s not just the relentless attacks on the law enforcement profession since George Floyd’s death that make it a tough sell. Red tape and pay also appear to be factors in Freeborn County.

He said the applicants the department has been getting are mostly repeat candidates they have passed on previously, and he is concerned the department is not attracting the candidates they would like. Then when they do find a candidate who would be good for the position, it takes too long for the background check that they often get a call from the candidate in the meantime telling them that he or she has accepted another job elsewhere. 

Despite the quality health insurance and other benefits the county provides, he said he thinks new candidates are mainly concerned with their starting wage.

Out of more than fifty applicants in the last year and a half, Freitag has only hired one new deputy. It’s a similar story when it comes to hiring staff for the county jail.

For the jail, [Human Resources Director Amanda] Pesch said the county has received 117 applications since February 2021, and out of that number has interviewed 76. Sixteen were eliminated in the background check phase, 12 withdrew, 15 didn’t show up for the interview and two canceled their interview. Out of the 117 applications, seven were hired. 

Freitag said he previously spoke with the Anoka County sheriff about hiring, and at the time he needed to hire 14 deputies, and he said his candidates were as dismal as Freeborn County’s. 

“Statewide, everybody’s fighting for candidates,” Pesch said. 

The county board is considering offering bonuses, higher pay and other incentives to attract recruits. In the meantime, Freeborn County authorities face the reality of relying on neighboring law enforcement for backup two hours a day, until and unless they can find enough candidates to do the job.