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Minnesota Democrats introduce $13M plan for meeting demand for police officers with strong moral character

(The Center Square) – Democrats announced a plan Monday to promote police officer recruitment that mirrors proposals of Gov. Tim Walz and Republicans.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler authored the bill, HF 3581, which was developed in consultation with the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association, Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, and Minnesota Department of Public Safety. He said at a news conference announcing the bill that law enforcement leaders want to recruit officers who reflect the community, have a high social-emotional set of skills and are committed to community services, but they’re struggling to do that.

“[The bill] is built on the premise that Minnesota can recruit, can hire, can train and can retain the kinds of police officers who reflect our communities’ values,” Winkler said.

He said providing law enforcement leaders with candidates who have been carefully screened, before training, for commitment to public service and strong moral character, such as a service mindset and cultural competency, instead of having training open to everyone is ideal for addressing the shortage of police officers.

Department of Public Safety Assistant Commissioner Booker Hodges said at the conference that 58 Minnesota agencies, 25%, are seeking police officers. Considering the vacancy rates (about 1,350 officers) and an average annual graduation rate of 536 officers, it will take three years to fill the jobs, without considering upcoming retirements, he said. About 4% of the state’s police officers are people of color, he said.

“[This program] will allow us to have law enforcement agencies that are reflective of the communities they serve,” he said. “I can’t overstress enough: this bill, if passed, is a generational opportunity here for the state of Minnesota. … When they [Republicans, DFL, and Walz] agree on something that the state’s name is Minnesota and this is the state capitol, it’s time to put our money where our mouth is.”

Candidates would receive free tuition at a Minnesota state university for up to eight semesters, free law enforcement skills training, job placement assistance, a signing bonus, a stipend for living expenses and a retention bonus after 18 months of service. In exchange, they would have to achieve passing grades in the required courses, complete law enforcement skills training, make timely progress toward completing the program, pass the Minnesota peace officer licensure exam, and actively seek employment as a peace officer with a Minnesota law enforcement agency until they are employed. They would need to obtain full-time employment as a peace officer in Minnesota within six months of completing the program and work full-time as a peace officer for six years.

The commissioner would annually verify with the board that program graduates who have not fulfilled the total employment obligation are employed as a peace officer by a state law enforcement agency. The commissioner can approve employment in other public safety professions for program graduates. If they do not meet the program requirements and are not excused by the commissioner, the program participants must reimburse the state.

It would cost $13 million to administer and establish the program in fiscal year 2023. The Department of Public Safety Commissioner would issue a $800,000 contract with a recruitment agency that would conduct outreach to candidates. The college scholarship program would receive $2.6 million and use some of that money to promote the program.

The commissioner would convene a selection committee to review applications. The committee would include representatives of all of Minnesota’s major law enforcement organizations and be chaired by the POST Board’s executive director.

The House Higher Education Committee will hear the bill at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 22.

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