MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — George Floyd’s killing had an immediate impact on recruitment at police departments, at a time when hiring new officers in Minnesota was already near a 25-year low.

Within a week of Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, the Shakopee Police Department lost two of its top five recruits. They specifically cited the current climate, according to Police Chief Jeff Tate.

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“These are quality individuals we were anticipating on hiring who would have brought some diversity and a lot of life experience,” Tate said.

It’s a blow to a profession that already faced challenges in that area. Tate said he has three to five openings in the next few months with vacancies and retirement.

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“Police work is essential work, service-driven work, and my fear is that the current environment is just so toxic that those quality, idealistic, service-driven people that we desperately need to fill these vacancy roles in law enforcement are going to look elsewhere,” Tate said.

The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association launched a campaign two years ago the called “Wear the Badge” to find new recruits, highlighting the community service aspect of policing. Andy Skoogman, the nonprofit’s executive director, says the problem spans the state.

“We think it means that the quality of life that we have here in Minnesota is in jeopardy. We believe that having high-quality candidates, great police officers contributes to the quality of life,” Skoogman said.

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He’s worried it could lead to the disappearance of police departments, and he says morale is in trouble.

“The chiefs that I’ve spoken to say that morale is at an all-time low, and they’re struggling to figure out ways to boost that morale, make sure that the officers know that they’re supported,” Skoogman said.

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Tate says he’s heard it in his department.

“There probably isn’t an officer out there that hasn’t had a family member look at them and say, ‘Is this really what you want to be doing right now?’” Tate said.

But it’s the community that has balanced the backlash, writing messages of thanks and stopping by with treats.

“That means so much to every officer that’s out there serving right now at a time we really need it,” Tate said.

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Some departments have offered incentives, like a pay increase for moving from another department. But WCCO was told they don’t always work, and may be hard to offer with potential budget constraints from COVID-19.

Jennifer Mayerle