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Law enforcement agencies boost efforts to diversify ranks

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Lt. Tiffani Nielsen (left) speaks during a State Patrol recruiting event
Lt. Tiffani Nielsen, left, speaks during a State Patrol recruiting event for women on Saturday in Golden Valley. The fifth annual event is one of several recruiting tools the State Patrol is using to bolster its ranks, especially in recruiting female officers.
Peter Cox | MPR News

Matison Schoeder sat in a conference room at a Minnesota State Patrol training center in Golden Valley on Saturday, surrounded by about 10 other women, including others like her who want to know more about working for the patrol.

"I know State Patrol is where I want to be," she said.

That was a welcome sentiment for the current patrol employees in the room, as the agency continues its work to find trooper candidates and diversify its ranks.

Saturday's gathering was the State Patrol's fifth annual event focused on recruiting women to consider a career in law enforcement.

The patrol has had some success in recruiting women, but they aren't nearly where they'd like to be, said Lt. Col. Rochelle Schrofer. She said about 10 percent of the troopers on Minnesota's highways are women.

"And that's not just a State Patrol issue; I think the law enforcement field in general is a bit behind the average percentage of employed females in the work force," Schrofer said.

Matison Schoeder takes notes during a State Patrol recruitment session
Matison Schoeder takes notes during a State Patrol recruitment session for women.
Peter Cox | MPR News

Among Saturday's attendees, Schoeder is currently a court operations associate in Ramsey County. She's interested in the Patrol's Law Enforcement Training Opportunity (LETO) Program, for people with no law enforcement background.

"Women, of course, are on the rise in law enforcement, so it would be really cool to be part of that movement," she said.

While Saturday's event aimed at recruiting women has been going on for five years, the patrol is experiencing what many other law enforcement agencies have seen over the past couple of years — a tougher time recruiting in general. Schrofer said they've been a bit more intentional in getting out to recruit.

"We've been doing the nontraditional, what we call our LETO recruitment program, for quite a while, so I wouldn't say that we've changed things," she said. "I certainly would say that we are trying to get out there in front of potential recruits, applicants, as much as we can."

Actively recruiting police officers in general has become more common, said Bloomington police Chief Jeff Potts, who serves as vice president of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.

"Nationally, not just here in Minnesota, but nationally, there's been a pretty significant reduction in the number of applicants that are coming into law enforcement positions," he said last week. "So if a police department is looking to hire they'll ask for applications, and I think many, many cities are less than half of where they were just a couple of years ago" in the number of applicants.

The association launched a new program last week called "Wear the Badge" to help with the recruitment of police officers.

"The chiefs' association was asked what can we do to try to reverse that current trend where we're seeing maybe not as much interest in law enforcement, not as many people are taking the peace officers exam," Potts said.

Nate Gove, the executive director of the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, said economics are contributing to the recruitment issues.

"I think any time you have a robust economy with historic (low) unemployment rates ... that puts pressure and competition that law enforcement has experienced with other industries which are also really encouraging people to join their particular profession," he said.

In Minnesota, the total number of POST board exams taken fell about 8 percent between 2017 and 2018. That number has dropped by more than 25 percent since 2014, though Gove noted that the number of licenses issued by his agency has remained fairly steady. 

Statistics from the POST Board also show an uptick in the number of women receiving peace officer licenses in Minnesota in recent years.

Back at the State Patrol recruitment event for women, Lt. Col. Schrofer talked about her own path from the private sector to the patrol in 1998. She told the attendees that it was a great move for her, and she encouraged the women at the table to consider the same path.

"I would ask you this, if you are seriously seeking a career in law enforcement, please consider the State Patrol," she said. "We're doing all the things we can do to entice and encourage good recruits to come to our organization, so we're eager to have you."