Retention and recruitment within policing is a growing problem. The Nov. 10 story, "Duluth Police seek more officers," helped give the problem much-deserved attention.
Finding and retaining quality officers is a challenge for law-enforcement agencies across the nation. It is becoming a significant problem for the Duluth Police Department. As Chief Mike Tusken pointed out in the article, the Duluth Police Department was not able to hire a sufficient number of officers this year to reach the department's authorized strength. With officers continuing to leave the department at a regular rate, and with a dwindling number of applicants to choose from, the problem is only bound to get worse.
The Duluth Police Department used to be looked at as a destination department. With minimal exception, Duluth officers committed themselves to making this a better community for their entire careers. Only rarely did one leave for another law-enforcement agency. Quality officers stayed in Duluth due to competitive wages, competitive retiree health benefits, good working conditions, and a supportive community.
Since 2007, however, retiree health benefits have been lost, wages offered by the city have failed to keep pace with those paid by comparable law-enforcement agencies, and the demands put upon officers have reached an excessive and unmanageable level.
In viewing an assessment conducted earlier this year, the Duluth Police Union saw the wages of Duluth police officers approximately 16 percent below a statewide median of comparable agencies. With little sign of improvement in the near future, our comparably low wages are surely not enough to attract the best and brightest from a shrinking talent pool.
While the majority of local residents continues to show a high level of support for the department, recent debates have impacted the morale of current officers and have affected the reputation of the department among officers from other agencies across the state. This has further harmed the department's ability to recruit and retain quality officers.
Officers are now leaving the Duluth Police Department at an unprecedented rate to take much-better-paying law-enforcement jobs with significantly smaller workloads and better work environments. We are approaching a crisis situation, and it needs to stop.
It is clear Duluth must again become competitive with other agencies in order to attract qualified officers and keep them here. Failing to do so will only have negative consequences for the city.
I commend Chief Tusken and City Councilor Arik Forsman for bringing this concern forward. I ask you, the vested members of this great community, to show the support needed to preserve the quality service you have come to expect from us, the proud, hard-working officers of the Duluth Police Department. Together we can continue to keep this a wonderful and safe place to live.
Tom Maida is president of the Duluth Police Union.