Hiring officers continues to be a daunting task for the Saint Paul Police Department, City Council members were told during a September 21 budget update. The department is down 64 police officers from its authorized strength of 619. Interim Police Chief Jeremy Ellison said that is despite having 53 officers graduate from the police academy in February, the largest group ever hired.

Another 25 officers are in training now, and a third class will start in December. The department is still catching up from a large number of retirements and a past hold on hiring. Last year the department saw more than 50 officers leave its ranks and another 45 have left so far this year. In a typical year, about 30 retire or leave. 

“Nothing about our current staffing challenge is typical,” Ellison said while asking the council to consider additional resources for the department. “There are things we’re not doing today that we would’ve been doing if we were at full staff.”

Mayor Melvin Carter’s proposed 2023 police budget is $106.6 million, up slightly from the 2022 amount of $104 million. No increase in the authorized number of officers is budgeted for 2023.

The department plans to use a combination of funds, including from the American Rescue Plan and a federal Department of Justice grant, to offer two training academies in 2023. Ellison said the department is also still looking at how to handle some unanticipated expenses, including costs due to the George Floyd trials held in Saint Paul. City officials are hoping for state and federal reimbursement for the expenses.

“Nothing about our current staffing challenge is typical,” Ellison said while asking the council to consider additional resources for the department. “There are things we’re not doing today that we would’ve been doing if we were at full staff.”

Council members said they often hear from residents worried about the lack of police and asked if the upcoming academies will get the department back to its authorized strength.

 

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Ellison said that while the academies will bolster the ranks, it will take time to get back to 619 officers. Overtime is being used to cover the current workload, but he noted the stress that is putting on officers.

The Police Department did not hold a training academy in 2020 as part of a citywide effort to hold down costs during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fewer people have also been applying for the police academy and to work for the department. Almost 800 people sought to join the department in 2014. The December academy has 52 applicants. 

The challenge in building up Saint Paul’s police ranks comes as the city deals with the rise in some types of crimes. There have been 27 homicides so far this year, compared to 2021’s record 38. Auto thefts, and gunshot injuries are up, while robberies, burglaries, arsons and rapes are down. There have been 190 people injured by gunfire so far this year, compared to 160 at this time in 2021.

Ellison outlined other priorities for the department, including further diversifying its ranks and increasing opportunities for public engagement.

— Jane McClure

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