It’s the same story for other police departments.
“My first recruitment process was 300 in Hastings,” said former police chief Paul Schnell, who led the Hastings Police department in 2010 and retired from the Maplewood Police Department just seven weeks ago.
He wore the uniform for 25 years in departments of all sizes.
Schnell said unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, changed police recruiting. Riots, protests and confrontations in 2014 were a turning point.
“The number of applicants has been way, way down,” he said. Schnell and other police chiefs said the “Ferguson effect” put police under a microscope.
“It raised the challenges and made it more difficult to recruit,” Schnell said. He said he only attracted 60 recruits during his last eight months in Maplewood.
“In the past in communities that size, (we) would typically get hundreds of applicants,” Schnell said. He said an officer-involved shooting also makes it tougher to recruit.
Earlier this month, Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor shot and killed Justine Damond after she called 911. Mayor Betsy Hodges and former Minneapolis police chief Janee Harteau said the shooting never should have happened.
“When these type of things happen, it shakes the foundation of what people think about the police,” Schnell said. He said the tumultuous time could drive important changes in policing.
“We have to be willing to hear the pain of histories many communities have had with police,” Schnell said. He sees this chapter as an opportunity for potential police officers.
“Those people from communities of color who really want to make a change and feel that policing can do things differently, this the time to join,” Schnell said.
A new method of police recruiting is already happening in the Twin Cities called Pathways to Policing. Schnell said the program is drawing nontraditional candidates to the profession.
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Law enforcement is identifying diverse candidates and paying for them to go through the academy. The program recently attracted almost 400 nontraditional candidates. A new set of recruits is now going through the academy and will graduate in December.