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State funds available to recruit diverse police officers, but not all departments are asking for the money

Several police departments applied to take advantage of the program last year, but since the program began in 2017, fewer than 10 departments have applied for the funding each year.

Reps. Angie Craig and Dean Phillips have separately introduced their own bills aimed at shoring up local police departments.
A Minneapolis police officer shown talking with demonstrators in front of the 4th Precinct in North Minneapolis during a protest in response of the shooting death of Jamar Clark in 2015.
REUTERS/Craig Lassig

As police departments across the state and nation find new ways to recruit officers after contending with staffing challenges in recent years, many are putting an emphasis on diversifying their ranks.

To that end, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety is seeking proposals from city, county and tribal law enforcement departments statewide for Pathways to Policing – a grant program aimed at incentivizing police agencies to recruit officers from underrepresented communities.

Following the murder of George Floyd by a then-Minneapolis police officer and the increased scrutiny on policing, recruitment of officers from underrepresented communities has emerged as a potential solution to improving the relationships between officers and the communities they police.

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The program

The Pathways to Policing program is funded by a $390,000 allocation from the Minnesota Legislature to the Minnesota Office of Justice Programs (OJP) as part of its yearly budget. Reimbursement grants ranging from $20,000 to $60,000 are given to departments to cover 50% of wages and salaries, training, equipment or tuition and books for candidates pursuing law enforcement degrees, among other costs.

The deadline for departments to submit a grant proposal is March 14.

The program is aimed at recruiting more officers to a profession that has historically been very white. According to a 2020 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 69% of local police departments are white, which is down from nearly 79% in 1997. The number of Hispanic officers has almost doubled in the same time frame from 7.8% to 14.2%, but the proportion of Black officers has remained at just under 12%.

Several police departments applied to take advantage of the program last year, including St. Paul, which received $75,000 to fund six new cadets. St. Louis Park was awarded more than $63,000 to fund three officers. Carver County, with a more than $45,000 award, funded two recruits. But since the program began in 2017, fewer than 10 departments have applied for the funding each year.

“If we had 10 or 15 applicants, that’d be awesome. It’d be great to have that level of interest,” OJP grant program administrator Kristin Lail told law enforcement officials during a Wednesday webinar explaining the application process. “I know that the state Legislature is interested in maybe increasing this funding, but we’ve never been able to really request that because we’ve never spent all the funds.”

Additional efforts

Police staffing shortages have persisted in the Twin Cities in the years since Floyd’s murder after an exodus of officers due to retirements, resignations and PTSD leaves following the unrest in 2020. As applicants dwindle, departments are trying several methods to boost those numbers, including hiring and retention bonuses, as well as internships for high school students interested in law enforcement.

Rep. Dean Phillips
Rep. Dean Phillips
In addition to the state program, one Minnesota congressman is working to expand the program nationwide.

Rep. Dean Phillips, D-2nd District, introduced legislation last year that would give $50 million to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to create Minnesota-style Pathways to Policing programs in states across the nation. Another $50 million would go toward a nationwide law enforcement marketing and recruitment campaign by the DOJ to target candidates from nontraditional backgrounds.

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“Justice and safety are not mutually exclusive, they’re mutually mandatory,” Phillips told constituents during a town hall last week at Anoka High School. “I’m on a mission to try to repopulate our police departments around the country and raise the esteem of public service among young people, and I think we can all play a role in that.”

Though Phillips said the bill has bipartisan support, whether it moves forward is a different story. When asked by an Anoka resident whether anything would get done with a divided Congress after Republicans took control of the House in January, Phillips expressed some doubts.

“I think there’s a spirit of cooperation that might affect some meaningful legislation even with some challenges ahead,” Phillips said. “But with a presidential election coming up, with a split House and Senate, the fact is politics are likely to take over as it often does, but we’re going to give it our best shot.”