Our View: Yes, pay Minnesota state troopers, but consider the timing
From the editorial: "(The) optics right now — right in the middle of the first trial against law enforcement officers accused of causing George Floyd’s death — can be very correctly questioned. "
Time after time throughout 2020 — in particular during the rioting that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis — the Minnesota State Patrol was deployed to the Capitol, the governor’s residence, and elsewhere in the Twin Cities to help keep the peace, deter unrest, and protect public property and civil rights. The troopers’ presence, dedication, and willingness to be away from family and endure long hours and untold dangers was of great service to Minnesotans. Their continued hard work can be appreciated in Duluth and statewide.
But Minnesota’s state troopers aren’t being appreciated back when it comes to their wages, according to their union and some in the Minnesota Legislature who are taking aim this session at ensuring more-competitive pay for these dedicated public servants.
Troopers’ starting pay lags behind law enforcement paychecks in 22 of 33 Minnesota cities, according to a 2019 analysis published in February by the Office of the Legislative Auditor. After three years of service, state troopers make less than city cops in all the cities analyzed, with the exception of Duluth.
By way of comparison, 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, earn $5,992 a month, which is 24% more. The highest-paid city officers after three years are in Eagan, south of Minneapolis, where the monthly pay is $7,379, or 36% more than the earnings of troopers.
Even with a pay raise in October, approved by the Legislature in special session, Minnesota’s state troopers make only about the median salary of city police officers, according to the analysis.
It’s no wonder troopers are abandoning the state patrol for higher paydays in suburban and other local departments. More than 30 troopers in just the last three years left for other agencies or for private-sector jobs, the St. Cloud Times reported this week, citing Duluth Station Sgt. Mike LeDoux, president of the Minnesota State Patrol Troopers Association.
That’s in spite of the state patrol’s mission to recruit and retain troopers through retirement, a substantial commitment: In addition to a career’s worth of wages, it costs the state and the state’s taxpayers more than $30,000 to train a trooper, LeDoux told the central Minnesota newspaper. Hanging on to them means cost savings.
Legislation to ensure competitive, fair pay has been introduced, targeting the state patrol as well as game wardens and other law enforcement and employees in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Department of Public Safety, and Department of Corrections.
“We're just raising everyone up at the same level, so one one's left back,” Sen. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville, said in the St. Cloud Times story. “We are trying to fix the issue that (Minnesota Management and Budget) created. They have neglected these folks and not given them what they needed.”
Fair and competitive pay is a laudable, reasonable aim for the professionals risking their lives to protect our safety, rights, and public spaces. However, while the legislation this year in St. Paul deserves to be supported and even approved, its optics right now — right in the middle of the first trial against law enforcement officers accused of causing George Floyd’s death — can be very correctly questioned.
Minnesota State Patrol troopers from Duluth and across the state are expected to be deployed again, at the end of the Derek Chauvin trial. They’ll answer the call one more time, just like they did throughout 2020.
When the appropriate time comes to reconsider their pay, the Legislature and Minnesotans can be the ones to answer the call, with appreciation for our troopers’ commendable service.
( EDITOR’S NOTE: Editorial Board member Kris Vereecken abstained from this editorial due to a conflict of interest.)
CLOSER TO HOME
In Duluth, police officers’ starting pay is $4,728 per month and, after two years, $5,813 per month, according to a 2019 analysis published in February by the Office of the Legislative Auditor. Decades of difficulties in recruiting and retaining officers in Duluth, due to wages considered less than competitive, were expected to improve after the approval in January 2019 of a new police contract. It boosted starting pay by $291 per month to an annual starting salary of $55,092, as the News Tribune reported in October 2019.