Paynesville police enacts paid sabbatical policy in attempt to retain officers

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The Paynesville Police Department is small, there are just four full-time officers who work in the city of 2,500.

But officers say they encounter the same types of calls as any other officer and experience the same kind of trauma.

"What people don’t understand is the compounding and cumulative stress that comes with this job," said Paynesville Police Chief Paul Wegner.

It’s why the department and the city have approved a new policy that will give officers a one-month paid sabbatical after five years of service.

"The average burnout in law enforcement starts at that three to five years," Wegner said. "If we can get a sabbatical in that time maybe we can retain officers, maybe we can keep them healthy."

Wegner hopes the relaxation and recharge time will actually save the city money as well by alleviating the high turnover of officers.

"I want them to truly take the time to focus on themselves, their family or whatever it may be that they want," Wegner said. "If they want to backpack through Europe, more power to them. If they want to do their ‘honey-do’ list at home, great, just destress and come back recharged and rejuvenated."

He hopes to allow the leave every three to four years once that five years of service mark has been reached.

"I know what a week away does — imagine what a month can do," Wegner said.

Cody Haakonson is the first officer who would be able to utilize the sabbatical.

"It sounds like a great idea to me," he said.

He’s been with Paynesville Police Department for three years, so he still has to put in another two years of service before he is eligible for the benefit, but he’s already thinking about it.

"I would spend time with my family because my schedule hasn’t always afforded me to do that," Haakonson said. "I worked Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and pretty sure I did last year, too. Just take some time to not be here. I love the job, but it drains on you," Haakonson said.

It is a unique effort that Chief Wegner hopes will ease the wave of officers leaving the profession.

"I can’t think of a better way to show appreciation than to say we care about you and we want you to take care of yourself," he said.

The new policy is in effect now.

Chief Wegner says he has heard from many police departments across the state wanting to know more about it and hopes lawmakers will join the discussion as well.