St. Paul police take recruitment effort to the movies

St. Paul police are turning to an unusual venue to bring more women onto the force: a night at the movies.

A new minutelong recruiting video stars St. Paul officer Anna Taylor. "In a world where you can be anything, be you, with us," the video says. It's running before feature films at 11 Mann theaters around Minnesota this holiday season, starting Friday.

It shows Taylor training in a gym and with a fellow officer — as well as shooting baskets with a young girl on a court in a local park. St. Paul police Chief Todd Axtell hopes the video will encourage women to consider a career in his department.

"We've struggled. Since 2016 we have become more racially diverse, significantly, but we have not kept up with that trend with our female officers," Axtell said. On the force of about 630 officers, racial diversity is up by about 5 percent, but the number of women officers, currently at 90, is down slightly in recent years, according to department data.

Axtell says in general, recruiting has become more difficult. When he started on the force in 1989, Axtell said the department would routinely get more than 700 applications for academy classes. He said police are lucky to get half that now.

"We have a very good job market, a low unemployment rate, a lot of companies out there competing to get good wages, and it's really hard for public entities to match those wages," Axtell said. Controversies over police conduct and incidents like the shooting of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile have added to the recruiting headwinds.

"There's been a lot of criticism. Some of it is earned, but much of it is not, so we've had some obstacles to overcome," Axtell said in an interview.

He called the movie trailer among the first intended specifically to tell women that they have a place in a field that has been traditionally considered male-dominated and unwelcoming.

Axtell says he's telling women prospects they "don't have to change who you are to be a police officer. We're trying to make young people understand that it's our responsibility to adapt to who you are."