Minnesota police departments struggle to find new officers; hope for special session

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The city of Golden Valley is feeling a police officer staffing pinch.

“The staffing is, it’s a concern because I think the department has never been in this situation before,” said Virgil Green Sr., Golden Valley’s Police Department Director.

Green was brought in from Oklahoma more than a month ago to lead the department just west of Minneapolis in Hennepin County.

By next month, Green plans to see fewer officers on the force.

“15 (officers) on duty, and we’re actually budgeted to have 31 (officers),” Green said, adding it’s “a concern.”

But right now, Green can’t respond to calls to help with the staffing shortages since he’s in the process of obtaining a law enforcement license specific to Minnesota.

For now, that leaves him behind a desk.

“It’s already hard for agencies to recruit officers across the country, but when you are losing officers and not bringing new ones on, that creates a more challenging concern,” Green said. “We’re in an environment where people aren’t running to apply to police departments.”

Lawmakers left two bills on the table that could help with recruiting and bonuses for departments, and there’s hope by some in the law enforcement community they’ll be considered in a possible special session in St. Paul.

The Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) website lists nearly 80 departments across the state searching for new officers, some offering several thousand dollar bonuses trying to get applicants. 

“They are absolutely struggling, especially in greater Minnesota,” said Jeff Potts, Executive Director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. “It’s not uncommon for a small department in rural or greater Minnesota to have a police officer process where they get absolutely no applications.”

In June 2020, Potts found state data showing around 11,000 licensed peace officers in Minnesota. Since then, nearly 600 officers have left the force, with a significant portion (215) taking disability leave.

“What is really hurting the situation is the pipeline for candidates has really virtually run dry — the colleges and universities have seen a dramatic decrease in students,” Potts said. 

Earlier this week, Golden Valley City leaders agreed to work with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department to help fill some shifts. 

Police Director Green says he’s been impressed by the officer in the department working 12-hour shifts along with overtime to answer the call.

“These officers have really stepped up,” Green said.