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Just a misunderstanding: Peace officers not going to lose their jobs

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news Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

A movement to eliminate part-time peace officer licenses is gaining ground in the Minnesota legislature.

The bill is currently out of committee and sitting on the house floor.

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But confusion also seems to be following this piece of legislation.

Some law enforcement agencies and lawmakers are hearing from people upset at the idea of eliminating part-time officers, but that’s a misunderstanding.

“We’re not talking about getting rid of part time positions; we’re just talking about part-time licenses,” said Neil Melton, executive director of the Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training board (or POST board). “Nobody is going to lose their jobs,” he emphasized.              

The bill has the stamp of approval from both the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association and the Sheriffs’ Association.

That’s because according to sheriffs like Becker County Sheriff Kelly Shannon, it’ll be business as usual.

“Some think it sounds like the sky is falling, but really, it’s not going to affect us a bit,” said Shannon, who says they haven’t had a hired employee on their department that held only a part-time license for years.

“We do have part time employees, but they are all eligible to have full time licenses because even like the bailiffs who carry a firearm have to go through the training to be full time-eligible,” said Shannon, who says they never have problems filling their part time or full time positions with qualified people.

“Our last two openings, we had 70 applicants,” he said.

That seems to be the case across the state, according to Melton, who says the law enforcement profession is continually becoming just that — truly professional with 464 local and state agencies made up of personnel who earn their two-year degrees and attend additional training to be full-time eligible.

There are no shortages of these law enforcement graduates who are working part time hours and likely looking for full time employment.

“At any given time in Minnesota, there are in excess of 1,500 eligible candidates because we test about 1,000 every year, and out of that only 400 or 500 of them may get a job and those who don’t get one carry into the next year,” said Melton, who says the natural evolution of this professionalism means there simply isn’t a need for part time licenses that have minimal requirements.

Up until now, part time peace officer licenses required little more than for people to sign up. Some training was then given to them, and they had to put in a certain number of hours every three years to keep up the license.

At one time, this was a common way for agencies to fill in the gaps when they didn’t have enough full time licensed officers.

Now however, those numbers have dwindled to about 175 statewide peace officers holding part time licenses.

Some of those may be spread out in organizations like sheriff’s auxiliaries — units made up of solely volunteers willing to provide additional security at special events.

“But our part time unit is not going away,” said Shannon of his auxiliary unit most notably seen at events like WE Fest and Fourth of July celebrations.

Those who still only hold that part-time license will be grandfathered in and allowed to serve out their time until they retire or quit.

“We just thought it was time to turn the faucet off on the part-time licenses we issue,” said Melton.

If the bill passes into law, that “faucet” will be shut off June 30 — the POST board’s deadline for applying for part time licenses.

And according to District 4B Rep. Paul Marquart, that’s a good possibility.

“When I first heard about this, I initially thought of part time positions and I thought there’s no way they could do away with those,” said Marquart. “But as I have come to understand the issue better and now with the support of the Sheriff’s Association, it changes things. I think it has a big chance to pass.”

Having the Sheriff’s Association on board is a huge consideration for legislators, one that happened only when the literature changed from eliminating all part time licenses to grandfathering in those already serving.

“We felt it was very important to keep the current (part time licensed) officers we have because they have been a very dedicated group of individuals who can do adequate service to our communities,” said Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Jim Franklin. “And we felt very strongly that they should be able to continue that until they or their departments decide otherwise.”

Franklin says given everybody’s realization that “this day would come,” the association was able to accept and back the terms of the new bill.

This issue has been a source of contention between the law enforcement management such as the POST Board and law enforcement associations and unions for many years, but according to Melton, the time was right.

“Years ago we got rid of constables, then we eliminated mayors having arrest authority, because we thought that was kind of crazy,” said Melton. “And now it’s the part time licenses. We have 15 people on our board who voted for it, and we have our chiefs, sheriffs and unions and federations behind it — now’s the time.”

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