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Our View: State troopers get long-overdue pay bump, appreciation

From the editorial: "It’s no wonder troopers have been abandoning the highway patrol for higher paydays in suburban and other local departments or in the private sector."

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Two years ago, the legislative auditor’s office scoured law enforcement contracts, crunched numbers, and found something alarming: Minnesota’s state troopers — the officers deployed repeatedly in the past year and a half or so to help keep the peace at protests, deter unrest, and protect public property and civil rights outside our state Capitol and elsewhere, especially in the Twin Cities — are paid less than police officers in every one of 33 Minnesota cities examined, with the exception of one, Duluth.

Our state troopers start at $4,822 per month and make $5,422 per month after three years, the analysis found. The state's highest-paid first-year city police officers in Inver Grove Heights, south of St. Paul, meanwhile, earn $5,992 a month, which is 24% more. The highest-paid city officers after three years in Eagan, south of Minneapolis, earn $7,379 per month, or 36% more than troopers.

Even with a pay raise in October, approved by the Legislature in special session, Minnesota State Patrol troopers lagged about 3% behind the median pay of city police officers statewide.

It’s no wonder troopers have been abandoning the highway patrol for higher paydays in suburban and other local departments or in the private sector, especially as they near retirement, with earnings determining their golden-years incomes. Dozens of troopers in recent years have left the patrol, according to news reports and Duluth Station Sgt. Mike LeDoux, president of the Minnesota State Patrol Troopers Association.

But here’s some welcome good news. This session of the Minnesota Legislature, lawmakers — led by Sen. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville, Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, and others — made “long overdue” and “significant” progress, LeDoux said, in setting fairer and more competitive pay for troopers, as well as for officers from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Department of Public Safety, and Department of Corrections. The Legislature passed a complicated mix of market adjustments and contractual increases to put troopers and other state law enforcement more in line with their colleagues in city police departments around the state.

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With the legislation — passed as part of the public safety bill and signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz — top-scale troopers are expected to make around $7,341 a month, a 6.7% increase over the current $6,876 per month, according to LeDoux.

“We have made significant progress but still find ourselves behind the median wage,” although closer to median, LeDoux said in an interview last week with the News Tribune Opinion page. “(I’m) very happy, very proud, very pleased. … All state law enforcement officers deserve to be compensated in line with similar positions outside of state service. That’s what we’ve been striving for, to make sure we’re competitive. If you don’t pay a competitive wage, folks are going to start going elsewhere. That’s what started happening to us.”

Look no further than the Duluth Police Department, the only department in the state’s 2019 study paying less than the State Patrol, to see what can happen when wages aren’t competitive. In past years, 100 to 300 hopefuls applied for officer openings, as Chief Mike Tusken wrote for the News Tribune in May. “This year we saw only 39.”

As LeDoux stated, “You can only draw from the applicant pool you have.” The state troopers’ legislatively approved pay bump “will help ensure that we get the best of the best (candidates) instead of the best of the worst. … I do think it has and will make a difference (with retention and recruitment).”

In the past year and a half or so especially, our state troopers' presence, dedication, and willingness to be away from family and endure long hours and untold dangers has been of great service to Minnesotans. Their continued hard work can be appreciated in Duluth and statewide — appreciation that now includes fairer, more-competitive paychecks.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Editorial Board member Kris Vereecken abstained from this editorial due to a conflict of interest.

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