MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — WCCO took a closer look at how retention and recruitment are plaguing police departments across Minnesota. Police chiefs from Wyoming to Jordan, Maple Grove and Duluth spoke candidly about the challenges. Our discussions happened at the same time a Gallup poll showed confidence in policing is rising after last year’s low.

The Wyoming Police Department is just one of the agencies feeling the impact of fewer officers. It’s a department of 10, including Chief Paul Hoppe.

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“We have eight patrol people that actually work the street, and we’re currently down two of those eight. So from an overall department size, that’s 20% for us, from a patrol perspective that’s 30%,” Hoppe said. “That’s a significant impact on our operations.”

Hoppe believes the national narrative of things like defund the police and a push to end qualified immunity has played a role. And says these are 10-plus year employees leaving.

“It impacts a lot of the quality of life issues that people see in these small communities because we simply just don’t have the people at the time to answer the calls and the demands,” Hoppe said.

The Jordan Police Department is in a similar situation, down two officers out of 10. A resignation letter read: “I knowingly and willfully took the risk that I may have to give my life to save another. However … the current anti-police climate is now demanding unreasonable risks to myself, and others.” The letter went on to say she can no longer justify the risk.

Executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association Jeff Potts said departments are seeing experienced officers leave.

“They’re not happy with the job anymore. They’re concerned about their future in this work. I think record levels, chiefs are seeing good, experienced officers just decide to get out of law enforcement,” Potts said.

Potts says there’s another issue that will contribute to a long-term impact in the profession, and the communities they serve.

“I’m hearing that across the board, the number of applications is down somewhere between 50 and 70%,” Potts said.

Departments in Duluth and Maple Grove are facing that predicament now. Maple Grove Chief Eric Werner said he saw 20-some applications for his latest open position. A year ago, he would have seen a hundred.

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“I have very limited options, and it’s also forcing me to fight against other agencies to find the best candidates. We’ve had to find ways to accelerate our processes,” Werner said.

At one point last year, he was down eight officers, or 10%. It’s an agency that is growing with the population, while seeing early retirements and resignations. Werner wants to know where he’ll get his next candidates from.

Duluth’s Chief Mike Tusken says fewer people are going to school to get into law enforcement in Minnesota.

“People are looking at the substantial angst and scrutiny that law enforcement is under and they’re stepping on the sidelines and they’re holding off, saying, ‘I’m not sure I’m wanting to go into that profession,'” Tusken said.

He has eight open positions, but foresees 40 retirements in the next three years, calling the confluence a daunting problem.

“What happens when you don’t have enough candidates who have the certification to become viable, hirable candidates,” Tusken said.

These leaders do see this turning around.

“What you’re seeing is simply just a snapshot in time. It doesn’t represent the profession as a whole,” Hoppe said.

But they say the impact will likely be felt by communities across the state before the pipeline makes a recovery.

“So it is a problem I think that will not be resolved in short order. It’s probably going to be something that we’re going to be dealing with for the next several years,” Tusken said.

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Brooklyn Center police have had 10 officers leave since last September. Three more have left since former officer Kim Potter fatally shot Daunte Wright. WCCO learned one person in training resigned specifically because of that incident.

Jennifer Mayerle