Ten Minneapolis police recruits received badges at a graduation ceremony Wednesday night, bringing the city’s police force to 866 sworn officers — the largest in nearly three years.
They join the force at a time when the badge is facing unprecedented mistrust and scrutiny over officer-involved shootings and an increase in violent crime.
Chief Janeé Harteau has vowed to bolster the number of patrol officers on city streets since she first took over in 2012. She gradually replenished the number of rank-and-file members after staffing dipped below 800 following several dozen retirements early in her tenure.
At the ceremony, Harteau told recruits they should be proud to join the Minneapolis Police Department, speaking about the honor of wearing the blue uniform.
“The badge has your number on it and will carry your legacy. What will your legacy be?” Harteau said to recruits, their family and friends at St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis. “What you do matters, but how you do it matters just as much.”
The graduates, who include four minority members and two women, all are city employees — with backgrounds as park agents, traffic control and community service officers (CSOs). The latter are already part of the department and have prior knowledge of squad cars, how to use a police radio and limited defensive tactics training.
After completing a rigorous 18-week training program at the department’s academy, eight recruits will be spread evenly throughout the city’s five police precincts to work with Field Training Officers. Two others will join the Minneapolis Park Police Department.
Retired MPD officer Greg Smelter, who spent 25 years on the force, proudly pinned a police badge on his daughter Meghan Smelter before her oath of office.
Meghan, 25, spent three years as a CSO before informing her father that she’d like to apply for the academy. “She said, ‘Dad, I want to do what you did,’ ” Greg Smelter recalled, adding that he’s kept a photo on the fridge of her as a teen sitting in his squad car. “It gets in your blood.”
Rookies, including 27 officers currently in training, will face rising crime statistics and racial tension.
Violent crime is up by 7.5 percent citywide this year, following several brazen daytime shootings and homicides on the North Side, the most recent killing a 58-year-old grandmother when she was struck by an errant bullet in her minivan last week.
Sgt. Steven Bantle, who runs the academy, said that it’s easy for young officers to become jaded on the job.
“The most important thing for them to know is that despite all the stuff in the media, most of the public is supportive of us, appreciates us and likes us,” he said. “The issue is that in our profession, we don’t come in contact with those people as often as we do with the others. It’s easy to lose sight of that.”