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$15 million in incentive bonuses proposed to spur new peace officer hires

It’s no secret that most law enforcement agencies across the state are short-staffed and are having trouble filling vacancies to bring their police forces back up to full strength.

The reasons why are many, said Rep. John Huot (DFL-Rosemount), and require solutions at all time points in a police officer’s career.

He sponsors HF3188, which would give newly hired peace officers bonus pay if they successfully complete their first year on the job.

The bill would appropriate $15 million in fiscal year 2023 to reimburse law enforcement agencies for incentive bonuses of up to $10,000 per officer.

The House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee laid the bill over Thursday for possible omnibus bill inclusion. Sen. Aric Putnam (DFL-St. Cloud) sponsors the companion, SF2745, which awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

An officer would be eligible for a bonus upon reaching the officer’s one-year anniversary of starting employment if the officer is a member in good standing with the agency.

Officers moving laterally from other jurisdictions within the state would not be eligible.

That’s a very important feature of the bill, said Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie, because it “restricts the free agency model” where law enforcement agencies poach officers from each other.

Leslie said that five of 18 applicants for the two openings in his department now work in neighboring counties. “We’re basically stealing from each other, which isn’t helping.”

If the demand for grants exceeds the $15 million appropriation, the Department of Public Safety would see that grants are distributed to agencies in a geographically balanced manner across the state.

Rep. Brian Johnson (R-Cambridge) believes the financial incentives will help in the recruitment and retention of peace officers, but the “vilification” of police officers and the policing profession that has been going on in the last few years must also stop.

“Until our political leaders start standing behind our officers, nothing is going to help,” he said.

Huot said these kinds of staffing shortages and retention problems have been affecting law enforcement agencies for decades, long before the more recent calls to reform and redefine the policing profession.

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