MINNEAPOLIS — Inside the Minneapolis Police Academy’s sprawling campus on the city’s north side, six people sat soberly and listened to a handful of officers and city officials make their pitch about joining an understaffed department that is synonymous with the murder of George Floyd.
Officers would live in a bustling, vibrant metro area with a high quality of life, they said, working in a large department where they could choose a wide variety of career paths with comprehensive benefits.
But those who take the oath must understand it is a dangerous job and that they would be expected to protect the sanctity of human life — even if it means reining in a fellow officer. And everything they do must be aimed at rebuilding trust in a city left in tatters by the killing of Floyd and other Black men.
“There’s still people who still value us,” Sgt. Vanessa Anderson told the potential recruits. “The community still values us. I really do think that.”
Crime rose in Minneapolis during the pandemic, as in many American cities. Homicide offenses nearly doubled from 2019 to 2021, aggravated assaults jumped by one-third, and car-jackings — which the city only began tracking in fall 2020 — exploded. And the city’s crime problem has been compounded by a mass exodus of officers who cited post-traumatic stress after Floyd was killed, gutting the department of roughly one-third of its personnel.
Some residents say the city can feel lawless at times. On July 4, police appeared unable to cope when troublemakers shot fireworks at other people, buildings and cars. That night sparked more than 1,300 911 calls. One witness described a firework being shot at one of the few police cars that responded.
“Our city needs more police officers,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in August, while presenting a proposal to boost police funding in a push to increase officer numbers to more than 800 by 2025. Adding to the pressure: a court ruled in favor of residents who sued the city for not having the minimum number of officers required under 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 of suburban Lino Lakes, who identifies as mixed race.
Collins sports a facial tattoo of an obscenity against police. He told The Associated Press that it is directed at the “evil ones,” such as those who killed Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who was shot to death by officers serving a search warrant in Louisville, Kentucky. The department said it has no policy governing tattoos.
“I don’t want people of color to be against cops,” said Collins, who works as a pizza cook and a FedEx package distributor. “What other career would be doper to send that message than to be 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 lived in Minneapolis for a few months. Howard said he has studied meditation and that he thinks it would be a useful skill when de-escalation is required.
“I feel like I can bring more heart into the police force. Heart isn’t about power and control, it’s about courage and protecting people and serving people,” Howard said.
But he was on the fence about applying. He has a 1-year-old son and worried about work-life balance and the dangers of the job.
Frey’s proposed funding would cover an officer recruitment marketing campaign, an internship program for high school students, and four classes of police recruits each year, among other measures.
Police spokesman Garrett Parten said the city is aware of the recruitment challenges it faces. Each class can accommodate up to 40 recruits, but only six were in the class that graduated in September. Only 57 people applied in 2022, down from 292 applicants in 2019.
“You can scream as loud as you want, ‘Hire more people!’ but if fewer people are applying, then it’s not going to change the outcome much,” Parten said. “Across the country, recruitment has become an issue. There’s just fewer people that are applying for the job.”
Statistics bear that out. Among 184 police agencies surveyed in the U.S. and Canada, the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum found that resignations jumped by 43% from 2019 through 2021, and retirements jumped 24%. In the face of those departures, overall hiring fell by 4%.
At an informational session for aspiring cadets in March, Matthew Hobbs, a training officer, thanked the attendees for simply being there.
“In Minneapolis, with what we’ve been through for the last couple years, for you to be here and have an interest in law enforcement … I’m impressed with every one of you that’s here,” he said.
Hobbs talked of how he felt the day after Floyd’s killing, when he and other officers were ordered to leave the precinct that protesters quickly took over and burned.
“It was the worst day of my career. But even after that, I still love my job,” Hobbs said, urging attendees to apply. “It’s an incredible career.”
Howard — the potential recruit with reservations — said later that he applied but did not make it past the oral exam. And Collins, who had talked about 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 apply again later, he said.
“I want to do something that I take pride in and give all my compassion to it,” Collins said. “I can’t figure out any other career — right now, in 2022, with all this stuff going on — than to be 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 report on undercovered issues. Follow Trisha Ahmed on Twitter.