Make policing a better career choice

Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


It's not your conventional job posting:

"WORKING CONDITIONS: Exposure to hazardous conditions and life-threatening situations."

Further, under "physical requirements," the posting advises that this job involves "standing, walking, sitting, talking or hearing, using hands to ... handle or feel, climb or balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl, reach with hands and arms."

There is much more. The job being advertised is Police Officer (Recruit) for the city of Minneapolis. And to be fair, some of the job description sounds much more pleasant than crouching or crawling under life-threatening conditions. It says the Police Department is looking for candidates who will "treat others with dignity, giving them voice and respect, being neutral in their decisionmaking and willing to work to build trust. They should be willing to show care, to connect as people of this community, to communicate in speaking and listening, and who will act with courage and character."

The job description also helpfully notes that applicants should forget about working from home: "This position," it says, "currently works on-site only."

Minneapolis remains about 25% short of its mandated strength of 731 officers, but it's only one of many jurisdictions that have trouble recruiting and retaining enough cops. The Philadelphia Police Department has relaxed its fitness requirement for trainees, though the standards for newly sworn officers are unchanged. Police departments that can afford to do so have taken to offering hefty signing and retention bonuses. Some small cities, like Goodhue in southeastern Minnesota, have seen their police departments disappear entirely.

Observers attribute the nationwide shortage of officers to several factors: a surge of retirements among cops, the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the blow to police morale — and to the prestige of law enforcement generally — following the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis officer. We sympathize. What young person, even if motivated by a strong desire to protect and serve the public, wouldn't have second thoughts in the face of calls to defund the police?

Although hiring appears to be on the uptick in some cities, public attitudes toward law enforcement agencies may have taken a further hit from the aggressive tactics some departments have been using lately against campus protesters. Maria Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, told the Associated Press that "In policing, it takes decades to move forward and a split second for the public attitude to deteriorate."

Whatever the causes of the decline in numbers, a lack of sufficient police personnel puts the remaining officers and ordinary citizens at risk. In the Twin Cities, it makes people reluctant to venture into the downtowns or to ride public transportation. Efforts to restore some of the vitality of our urban districts suffer when people are too apprehensive to go out (though we should pause here to acknowledge that the Timberwolves and Twins have been providing fans powerful incentives to give downtown Minneapolis another try).

So we're glad to see that a growing number of law enforcement agencies are taking advantage of Minnesota's Pathways to Policing program. Begun with an appropriation from the Legislature, the program helps lower the barriers — mainly financial ones — for people who would like to explore careers in law enforcement but can't afford to take time away from their current occupations to get the necessary training. The program gives priority to candidates who come from diverse backgrounds. It pays candidates a salary and benefits to support them and their families while they work toward becoming qualified police officers.

Last week, the Minneapolis City Council approved a grant from the state Office of Justice Programs, clearing the way for the city's Police Department to begin participating in Pathways to Policing. Minneapolis thus joins municipalities as varied as Bloomington and Bemidji, Roseville and St. Louis Park, Duluth and Waite Park in making the obstacles to a career in law enforcement a bit easier to hurdle. It's a positive step that we hope will yield results.