The St. Paul Police Department’s promising recruitment effort

Since 2020 law enforcement agencies around the country have experienced sustained difficulty in retaining peace officers and recruiting new officers to fill the vacancies created. Those difficulties have been acute in many metro area departments in Minnesota

The anti-police narrative that developed following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis served to significantly damage the law enforcement profession by undermining its value in the eyes of the public and leaving it vulnerable to political maneuvering.

Many governmental leaders, private companies, and citizen groups opined that the entire law enforcement profession was deeply flawed and in need of massive reform. Law enforcement and those interested in joining the profession looked at this as a betrayal of the profession.

The reaction from many veteran officers was to resign or retire early, leaving many agencies struggling to provide the level of service citizens need and have come to expect. The reaction of students considering entering the law enforcement profession has been to reconsider that decision.

Law enforcement departments have countered this difficulty by increasing wages for peace officers and offering signing and retention bonuses. But the difficulties in recruitment and retention remain. Gone are the days of several hundred applicants vying for peace officer vacancies.

The recruiting crisis has pushed agencies to become more creative in their recruiting efforts. While wages are important, it has become clear that perspective and veteran peace officers value unwavering support from the community and the political leadership governing their departments, more than they value signing or retention bonuses. However, demonstrating the existence of that support in a job description is difficult sell for departments.

One of the more promising recruiting efforts is that of the St. Paul Police Department (SPPD). 

The St. Paul Police Department (SPPD) has historically been a well-respected agency that never had difficulty recruiting new officers. But the events of 2020 hit St. Paul like it did so many other agencies, and traditional methods of recruiting began showing diminishing returns. As Assistant Chief Serier described it to me in a recent conversation, the SPPD’s “recruiting muscle had atrophied.”

In response the SPPD created an internal task force to rethink and rebuild its recruiting effort. Much of it centered around establishing a clear schedule of future academies. 

SPPD then committed to two academies per year, one in the spring and one in the fall, for new hires and lateral transfers to become trained. Having more academies and establishing the dates years in advance has given potential applicants more assurances that have aided in their decision-making process to join the SPPD.

A SPPD Recruitment Website was developed with key onboarding dates and links provided so applicants can stay on schedule and not miss a cycle of hiring. The website also features an impressive recruitment video.

One of the more innovative initiatives in the SPPD’s recruitment effort has come in a recently announced partnership between the St. Paul Police Department and the U.S. Army and Minnesota National Guard. 

SPPD is the first law enforcement agency in the state to partner with the U.S. Army’s existing Partnership for Your Succuss program (PaYS). The program will formally connect soldiers who are ending their service with the Army or National Guard with the SPPD, and introduce the idea of a law enforcement career. As Major General Shawn Manke of the Minnesota National Guard described it, it offers employers like the SPPD a “pool of highly skilled, motivated and responsible candidates.” That’s a win-win.

Assistant Chief Serier has set a goal of adding at least five (5) police officers per year through the PaYS partnership with the Army/MNNG. Couple this with the number of new recruits and lateral transfers now applying, and the SPPD is hopeful it can add about 50-55 officers per year to its ranks. Given the SPPD is currently down to 53 officers from its authorized strength of 619, that is welcome news. Especially considering the SPPD expects a considerable number of veteran officers to retire over the next three years.

While recruiting efforts remain strained, the SPPD effort to improve the recruitment and retention of its officers is paying off. The success of SPPD’s recruiting effort during these troubled times, including the innovative partnership with the U.S. Army’s PaYS program, make it a recruitment effort worthy of emulating.

Add to this, a mayor who shows support for his police department and values a positive relationship with his chief, and the future of the SPPD looks bright.