Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020 by then-police officer Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis Police Department saw an exodus of officers from its ranks due to resignations, retirements and disability leaves. More than two years later, the department remains more than one hundred officers short of its authorized strength.
Those struggles were mirrored by police departments across the country. Many officers left the force, and recruiting their replacements has been a challenge amid rising negative attitudes toward policing.
Departments across the Twin Cities metro area continue to have the same challenges retaining officers amid increases in demand for police services due to more crime. And as police agencies have been ramping up efforts to bolster their ranks, some are using the opportunity to diversify their force by recruiting more women and people of color.
The sizes of police agencies nationwide are determined differently and depend on factors like population and budget. The Denver Police Department, for example, has an authorized strength of nearly 1,600 officers for 700,000 residents, or about 2.3 officers per 1,000 residents, while the Portland Police Department allows for nearly 1,000 for a similarly sized population.
Minneapolis’ city charter requires 1.7 officers per thousand residents, a ratio that hasn’t changed since 1961. Based on the city’s current population, the charter requires 731 officers, while St. Paul’s number is determined by city officials on an annual basis. Brooklyn Park’s city council decides on an amount every few years.
Minneapolis is far from its statutory requirement: MPD’s staffing woes have been in the spotlight since Floyd’s murder more than two years ago due to the department’s sudden decrease in officers coinciding with a surge in crime citywide. The department sits at 602 sworn officers, including 37 on a continuous leave of nearly two weeks or more, which is down hundreds from more than 900 officers in May 2020.
According to data collected by the FBI on police staffing, larger metro-area cities (in this analysis, those with populations over 25,000) vary in their staffing per capita: Five suburbs (Lakeville, Maple Grove, Woodbury, Apple Valley and Chaska) were tied for the lowest staffing levels in the most recent data, as of 2021, at 0.9 officers per thousand residents. Just two of the 35 police departments had two or more officers per 1,000 residents, according to the FBI data, including the St. Paul Police Department, which has exactly two officers per 1,000 residents.
Despite its higher ratio of officers to residents, the St. Paul Police Department has also seen its share of retention and recruitment issues. Normal attrition due to retirements has coincided with a drop in students studying law enforcement and increase in officers that left due to post-traumatic stress, leaving the department short of its authorized strength of 619 officers, said Deputy Chief Jack Serier.
“We’ve seen a drop in the number of people who are even eligible to apply for a job at the department and at the same time, we’ve got an increase in the number of people retiring or separating from employment,” he said. “So we’ve got two curves that are headed in opposite directions from where they should be for us to be able to fill our needs for new employees.”
Smaller police departments in surrounding suburbs have faced similar challenges.
The Brooklyn Park Police Department, for example, saw its force shrink by 15 officers, or about 14% of its authorized number of 107, said North Precinct Inspector Toni Weinbeck. Some of those losses were due to regularly scheduled retirements, but the rest either left policing to work in other careers or cited post-traumatic stress. Further, Weinbeck said fewer students are going to school for law enforcement, something that has contributed to struggles to replace the officers that left.
Weinbeck said the decrease in numbers coincided with an increase in 911 calls, forcing the department to shift how they operated while trying to respond to every call.
“Some of our positions just didn’t get filled at all, some of them are half of the unit that they used to be,” she said. “We started to reduce down so we weren’t investigating some of our misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor crimes … we just didn’t have the resources.”
Although the FBI and others use a per-capita measure to report police staffing levels, experts say how many officers a city needs varies based on other factors.
Colby Dolly of the National Policing Institute said many cities use population ratios, like one officer per 1,000 residents, to determine how many sworn officers the police department should employ. Instead, cities should look more at workload and demand for police services, which varies from city to city, to allow for more time to do proactive policing and prevent officers from only having the capacity to go from one call to the next, he said.
“You wouldn’t want a school teacher that is overworked with too many students and not enough time to prepare for class,” he said. “The same sort of holds true for officers as well – you want them rested and you want them able to prepare for calls and have a good disposition when they go to these calls.”
Law enforcement agencies around the state are trying several different strategies to boost their ranks, ranging from recruitment and retention bonuses to internship programs to entice high school and college students to join the profession.
In Minneapolis, Mayor Jacob Frey proposed giving the police department nearly $400 million over the next two years in his biennial budget – part of which would fund new classes of cadets and be enough to staff the charter-mandated minimum of 731 officers next year.
The St. Paul Police Department put together an internal task force to bolster their recruitment efforts, which include recruiting officers from other law enforcement agencies, a pathway program for college students and others interested in policing. Serier said the department also encourages officers to go out into the community and act as ambassadors, directing residents who are interested in policing to their cadet program.
Weinbeck said the Brooklyn Park Police Department has traveled across the state to find new recruits, and the department has focused on recruiting more officers of color through incentives like offering to pay for school.
“Our goal at Brooklyn Park Police Department is to mirror our community,” she said. “Over 50% of our population is people of color so we’ve really had this direct focus with our cadet program to hire cadets that look like our community.”
Late last month, the Minnesota State Patrol announced it would sign on to the 30×30 Initiative — a pledge by several police departments across the country to increase the number of women to at least 30% of the recruits in police academies by 2030.
More than 200 police departments – including Minneapolis, St. Paul and Brooklyn Park – have signed onto the pledge since the initiative was created after a 2018 report on women in policing found that the number of women in police departments has remained relatively stagnant for more than 30 years.
Women make up 12% of sworn officers and just 3% of police leadership nationwide, according to the initiative.
In the Twin Cities metro, not a single department belonging to a city with a population more than 25,000 residents has reached the 30% threshold, according to the FBI data. The Lakeville and Maplewood Police Departments had the highest percentages, with women making up about 26% of each department’s sworn officers.
Research suggests women officers are less likely to use force and excessive force and are seen by communities as more honest and compassionate. Weinbeck, whose department has also taken the pledge, said she has seen that difference during her career with women she has worked alongside, prompting her to approach her chief with the initiative.
“A lot of women officers just show a different level of empathy toward the community, and because of that, the relationships that are built or the decisions that are made on behalf of that community end up being a little bit different as well,” she said.
Many departments are also allowing officers to come in at a higher pay scale to entice candidates, and shortening the hiring process down from several months to prevent candidates from being hired off by private companies whose process might only take a few weeks.
As short-staffed departments have officers working longer hours and more officers leave departments citing mental health struggles, Dolly said he would like to see more departments focus on officer wellness and a healthy workplace culture, which would in turn attract better candidates to the job.
“You have the time off when you need it, you have a supportive management system … that supports officers and also disciplines officers when they need discipline, and they keep everything really healthy as far as the culture of the department,” Dolly said.