May 23, 2023 - News

As police departments struggle to staff up, a Twin Cities suburb bucks the trend

Illustration of a "hello my name is..." sticker shaped like a police badge.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The chief of a suburban Twin Cities police department is using the private sector's playbook of workplace perks to recruit and retain officers at a time when many departments are battling a tight labor market.

Driving the news: New Hope, a west metro suburb of 21,000, has managed to ward off the staffing struggles that have recently plagued other law enforcement agencies across the state β€” including those in the neighboring cities of Brooklyn Center and Golden Valley.

  • It swore in two new officers in late April and is in the process of hiring one more to hit its full staff level of 34.

The big picture: Chief Hoyt credits political support and stability from the mayor and council β€” which includes a law enforcement veteran β€” as key factors in attracting strong applicants and maintaining a relatively low turnover rate.

  • But he says smaller on-the-job incentives are also making a difference, especially as metro-area agencies compete for an increasingly dwindling pool of qualified recruits.

Zoom in: Every patrol officer gets a personal desk and computer β€” something Hoyt said is rare at many older stations, a covered garage spot for their squad car and access to an on-site gym.

  • Instead of hiring bonuses, the department touts opportunities for long-term career and professional development, such as external trainings and paths for internal promotion.

What he's saying: "This job is just so tough right now. And you spend so much time at work," Hoyt told Axios during a recent tour of the station. "You want to be able to go to an environment you can feel comfortable."

Between the lines: Politics are also a factor, as officials in other local cities call for major police reforms. Hoyt said many young people entering the profession are looking for stability and signs that city leadership backs the department.

  • "[They ask], If something does happen, am I going to have city leadership and city administration stick up for me when I've done nothing wrong?" he said.

What we're hearing: New Hope Mayor Kathi Hemken said Hoyt's track record of open communication, prioritizing mental health for officers and addressing issues within the force "right away" has built trust between the department and the council.

  • She told Axios she bakes "100 dozen" cookies for police and staff each holiday season to show her appreciation. A belief that the department has "done their homework" before bringing requests for resources to the council has led officials to fulfill requests for body-worn cameras and other gear and tools.

Zoom out: While smaller suburban departments are typically faring better than large cities like Minneapolis, many cities remain 5% to 10% below full staffing, Jim Mortenson of the Law Enforcement Labor Services union told Axios.

What we're watching: Even in New Hope, the number of qualified applicants for open positions remains far below levels Hoyt saw early in his law enforcement career.

  • That could spell longer-term problems, even for departments doing well for now.

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