The city where George Floyd was killed is struggling to recruit police
On the sprawling campus of the Minneapolis Police Academy on the city’s north side, six people sat sober and listened to a handful of officers and city officials comment on joining an understaffed department synonymous with the murder of George Floyd.
Officers would live in a busy, vibrant metropolitan area with a high quality of life, they said, and work in a large department where they could choose a variety of career paths with broad benefits.
But those taking the oath must understand that it is dangerous work and that they are expected to protect the sanctity of human life – even if it means reining in a colleague. And everything they do must aim to restore confidence in a city left in shambles by the killing of Floyd and other black people.
“There are still people who still value us,” Sgt. Vanessa Anderson told the prospective recruits. “The community still appreciates us. I really think so.”
Crime rose in Minneapolis during the pandemic, as it did in many American cities. Homicides nearly doubled from 2019 to 2021, serious assaults rose by a third, and auto thefts — which only dogged the city in the fall of 2020 — skyrocketed. And the city’s crime problem was exacerbated by a mass exodus of officers, citing post-traumatic stress after Floyd’s death, stripping the department of about a third of its staff.
Some residents say the city can feel lawless at times. On July 4, police seemed overwhelmed when rioters launched firecrackers at other people, buildings and cars. More than 1,300 911 calls were initiated that night. A witness described fireworks being shot at one of the few police cars that responded.
“Our city needs more police officers,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in August as he presented a proposal to increase police funding to bring the number of police officers to more than 800 by 2025. Pressure mounted as a court ruled in favor of residents who were suing the city for not having the minimum number of officers required by the city’s charter.
One of the six who attended the late summer presentation at the Minneapolis Police Academy was 36-year-old Cyrus Collins, from the suburb of Lino Lakes, who identifies as mixed race.
Collins has a facial tattoo of an anti-police profanity. He told The Associated Press that it’s aimed at the “bad guys,” like those who killed Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who were shot dead by officers serving a search warrant in Louisville, Kentucky. The department said it has no policy on tattoos.
“I don’t want people of color to be anti-cops,” said Collins, who works as a pizza maker and FedEx package handler. “What other career would be better for sending that message than being a Minneapolis police officer?”
Also at the meeting was William Howard, a 29-year-old black man who said he installs office furniture, writes stories for video games and has only been living in Minneapolis for a few months. Howard said he’s studied meditation and thinks it would be a useful skill when de-escalation is required.
“I feel like I can bring more heart to the police force. Heart is not about power and control, it’s about courage and protecting people and serving people,” Howard said.
But he was hesitant to apply. He has a 1-year-old son and worries about work-life balance and the dangers of the job.
Frey’s proposed funding would cover, among other things, a marketing campaign to recruit officers, an internship program for high school students, and four classes of police recruits per year.
Police spokesman Garrett Parten said the city is aware of recruitment challenges. Each class can take up to 40 recruits, but only six were in the class that graduated in September. In 2022, only 57 people applied, compared to 292 applicants in 2019.
“You can yell as loud as you want, ‘Hire more people!’ but if fewer people apply, that won’t change the result much,” said Parten. “Recruitment has become a problem across the country. There are just fewer people applying for the job.”
Statistics prove that. Among 184 police agencies surveyed in the US and Canada, the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum found that terminations increased 43% and retirements increased 24% from 2019 to 2021. With these departures, total new hires fell by 4%.
At an orientation session for prospective cadets in March, Matthew Hobbs, a training officer, thanked attendees for just being there.
“In Minneapolis, with what we’ve been through over the past few years, for you to be here and interested in law enforcement… I’m impressed with each and every one of you that’s here,” he said.
Hobbs spoke about how he felt the day after Floyd’s killing, when he and other officers were ordered out of the precinct, which protesters quickly took over and burned down.
“That was the worst day of my career. But even after that, I still love my job,” Hobbs said, encouraging contestants to apply. “It’s an incredible career.”
Howard – the potential recruit with reservations – later said he applied but failed the oral exam. And Collins, who has spoken of being a bridge between people of color and the police, said a last-minute trip forced him to miss a necessary oral exam. He plans to reapply later, he said.
“I want to do something that I’m proud of and give it all my sympathy,” Collins said. “I can’t think of any other job — now, in 2022, with all that stuff — being a cop.”
Trisha Ahmed is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover undercover topics. Follow Trisha Ahmed on twitter.
For AP’s full coverage of George Floyd’s death, go to: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd