Minn lawmakers push bonuses and loan relief to recruit cops
$10,000 signing bonuses, scholarships and special financial assistance are some of the law enforcement recruiting proposals in play at the state Capitol.
Minnesota Senate Republicans on Thursday presented a $65 million recruiting plan, which they said was just part of a public safety program the Senate majority will push forward this year. The House-controlling DFLs say they will also come forward with a police staffing proposal.
If the plans line up, it could present an area of consensus, and it will mark a notable shift in the debate that has focused more on police accountability in recent years.
Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, said a general labor shortage combined with a demoralized law enforcement profession makes recruitment difficult.
“We are facing a crisis in the number of licensed officers available in Minnesota to even apply for the job openings that we have,” he said at a press conference. “It might be more pronounced in the metro, but in many rural communities like mine, we’ve struggled to recruit new officers to live and work in their communities.”
The GOP plan includes several pots of financial aid for students pursuing law enforcement studies, bonuses for new recruits and money for a public awareness campaign on the importance of the police. .
Sen. Paul Gazelka, a Republican from East Gull Lake who is running for governor, said his bonus plan could help attract up to 2,000 new officers.
“If you sign up to be a new police officer – a brand new police officer – $10,000. You must serve one year before getting it. It goes to the agency that appointed that person,” Gazelka said. “You can’t outsmart the system. In other words, you cannot switch from one police service to another.
Gazelka said the drive to attract new officers would not reduce current licensing qualifications.
“We have no intention of lowering the standards. We want the best people to be police officers,” he said. “So if we’re not going to lower the standards, I don’t see any way of not having to pay more because the risk is so high.”
Republicans have said they will soon introduce other bills aimed at preventing current officers from leaving their jobs, perhaps through pension sweeteners or other methods. Leaders said they would fast-track the bills so they can be implemented quickly.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said his caucus would release its own police recruitment and retention plan.
“We welcome working with Senate Republicans to find areas of agreement,” Winkler said in a written statement. “In our engagement with police chiefs, sheriffs and local officials, Democrats hear that police departments want to diversify their workforces and ensure officers are committed to serving in their communities.”
DFL Governor Tim Walz’s budget recommendations include student loan relief of up to $5,000 for newly hired police officers and a recruitment advertising campaign.
Law enforcement isn’t the only profession to capture the attention of lawmakers on the labor front. Bills to hire more nurses, childcare providers and meat processors are pending. The plans would be paid for on a record budget surplus of $7.7 billion.
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