A Minnesota model for recruiting and retaining more diverse law enforcement candidates could soon go national under a bill to bolster depleted police ranks across the country.
U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., is leading a bipartisan campaign to pass the Pathways to Policing Act — inspired by a six-year-old Minnesota initiative — amid an ongoing shortage of officers at the national scale. The proposal would focus on finding candidates who might otherwise pursue other areas of work, while launching a national marketing and recruiting campaign.
“Law enforcement in the Third District and across the country are having a terrible time recruiting quality candidates, hiring them and retaining them for their careers,” Phillips said Tuesday at an event in Bloomington to highlight its legislation.
“The message was incredibly clear: the pool of qualified candidates who would want to be law enforcement officers has simply dried up over the past few years.”
State and local law enforcement leaders and the state’s largest lobby groups support Phillips’ proposal. Four other Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Minnesota Angie Craig, and five Republicans joined Phillips as the original bill’s sponsors.
The 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the international unrest that followed have been blamed for a subsequent exodus of police officers and a decline in public confidence in the profession.
Phillips’ bill would give $50 million to the Justice Department to conduct nationwide marketing and recruiting campaigns similar to successful military enlistment efforts. The department would also be required to share resources to support campaigns by state and local agencies.
The bill places particular emphasis on encouraging candidates from communities that have traditionally been underrepresented in law enforcement. The proposed program would also create an entry point into the profession for those with two- or four-year degrees in other fields and help those entering law enforcement pay for necessary training programs. .
Priority for state and local grants would be given to agencies or governments that show they are trying to recruit candidates from underserved communities or people with non-traditional backgrounds or careers. Priority would also be given to departments seeking candidates who live in or are willing to relocate to the communities they serve.
Phillips pointed to the legislation inside the Bloomington City Council chambers, flanked by state and local law enforcement officials and representatives from Minnesota police lobby groups. The measure has the support of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association and organizations representing police chiefs and sheriffs in the state.
In Minnesota, legislation to recruit and retain police officers stalled in May when the legislature adjourned for the year without agreement on competing public safety spending bills.
So far, it’s unclear whether a special session will be called to allow lawmakers to complete that work.
State Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington on Tuesday expressed support for Phillips’ legislation. He said law enforcement and first responders in Minnesota told him “they don’t have enough people to respond to the calls that are coming in, let alone the upsurge in crime and the upsurge in needs that we see in the community”.
“Whether it’s mental health calls, carjacking calls, what we’ve all seen is this increased volume of need,” Harrington said. “And what we haven’t seen are the resources to meet that need.”
The Minnesota program began in 2016 as a partnership between Bloomington and St. Louis Park Police Departments. It has since been used in five hiring cycles at a dozen state agencies.
“As we continue to re-evaluate how law enforcement services are provided, it remains extremely important that we hire the right people to do this job,” said Jeff Potts, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police. Association and former Bloomington Police Chief. .
“Research has shown us that it is much easier for police services to build deep trust and deeper relationships in the community when the service better reflects the community it serves.”
Phillips’ bill does not yet have a companion in the Senate. But the congressman is optimistic that early bipartisan support is indicative of his chances of reaching President Joe Biden’s office.
“There’s not a congressman who doesn’t hear the same damn thing in his districts across the country,” Phillips said, speaking on the needs voiced by law enforcement officials. .
“And rest assured that they are listening to all of their leaders and officers. It’s an example of what you do when you hear what’s going on.”