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New peace officer education program proposed to address state’s officer shortage

Minnesota law enforcement agencies are facing a critical shortage of peace officers.

Police and other law enforcement departments seem to be competing to hire candidates with desired skills, says House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley).

He sponsors HF3581 that seeks to open a pipeline to potentially train more peace officers.

As amended, the plan would create a free intensive, comprehensive peace officer education and training program for college graduates along with a stipend and a signing bonus. It comes with a $21 million cost from the General Fund in fiscal year 2023.

To take advantage, someone who completes the program would be obligated to work as a peace officer in the state for at least six years and acquire the necessary license.

The bill was approved by the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee Wednesday on an 11-7 party-line vote and referred to the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee.

The proposal would also establish a college scholarship program for high school graduates, and grants for peace officer explorer and new mentorship programs.

Additionally, the bill would provide social work scholarships to help expand law enforcement options.

Brad Chin, president of the Minnesota Chapter of the National Black Police Association, emphasized the need to diversify law enforcement and to provide mentoring to people, particularly those from underrepresented communities.

Rae Brown, the chapter’s vice president, said opening doors in law enforcement to people from underrepresented groups and making them visible in their communities would bring long-term benefits.

Minnesota is changing, and the law enforcement officers need to reflect that social and demographic change, she said.

Rep. Josh Heintzeman (R-Nisswa) questioned “reinventing the wheel” when “proven programs” are already in place.

Winkler said the current system is not producing candidates that law enforcement is looking to hire. They are having a hard time finding candidates with quality communication skills, cultural competencies, and a professional mindset.

HF3581 would appropriate the following from the General Fund:

  • $13 million for the education and training program;
  • $2.6 million for the college scholarship program;
  • $2.6 million for social work scholarships.
  • $1 million for explorer program grants;
  • $1 million for mentorship grants; and
  • $800,000 for program outreach.

The bill’s companion, SF3316, sponsored by Sen. Karla Bigham (DFL-Cottage Grove), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

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