Colleges promote criminal justice programs as police departments face staffing crunch | KSTP.com

Colleges promote criminal justice programs as police departments face staffing crunch

Alex Jokich
Updated: July 13, 2021 06:25 PM
Created: July 13, 2021 05:30 PM

Police academies and colleges are finding new ways to recruit future officers as some police departments in the metro face staffing shortages.

In recent months, the Minneapolis Police Department has reported its staffing being down by about a third.

A group of north Minneapolis residents sued the city for operating below the required minimum of 730 police officers, a number set by a per capita formula in the city charter. A Hennepin County judge agreed and ordered Mayor Jacob Frey and the Minneapolis City Council to hire an additional 61 officers by June 2022. A spokesperson for the attorney's office declined to comment on the judge's order.

However, Frey cited the decrease in police as playing a role in the city's response to recent unrest in Uptown.

"The fact that we have to keep going out and asking for these additional mutual aid requests sort of highlight the underlying issues, which is, yes, when you have massive attrition from a department, there are consequences to it," Frey said last week.

Minnesota colleges that offer law enforcement degrees told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they're now doing extra outreach in the wake of all the officer vacancies.

"The opportunities are many, many more than there are applicants to fill," said Ajay Panicker, dean of Metropolitan State University's College of Community Studies and Public Affairs.

Metropolitan State offers a School of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice.

Panicker said interest and enrollment in the program have declined since 2015.

The university is trying new initiatives to recruit applicants, such as outreach at job fairs and tuition help.

It launched a new George Floyd Memorial Scholarship, which will give preference to applicants of color.

"To have more options for scholarships so we can attract a student body that will look like the police force of tomorrow," Panicker said. "We are also currently working on developing additional scholarship opportunities with some of the former police chiefs."

He said the school will also start hosting community sessions surrounding its law enforcement programs.

"One of the foremost efforts we're going to undertake this year is really this public-facing engagement," Panicker said.

The School of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice revamped its curriculum this year, which school officials said places an even greater emphasis on equity, inclusion and antiracism in policing.

Panicker said the university plans to host community engagement sessions to raise awareness about the revised program and courses, and allow the public to offer feedback on it.

"This engagement is going to actually bridge some of the gap. It's going to be a communication effort and it is also an effort where we really gain feedback from what the community would like us to do," Panicker said.

He noted the school also offers flexible classes, including at night and online, to attract new students to careers in law enforcement.

"We do hear that there are many vacancies, and we are eager to attract students who would be interested in filling those vacancies," Panicker said.

Enrollment is still open for the fall semester. MSU is taking applications for the program until Aug. 1.


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