The Minneapolis Police Department expects to add as many as 72 new officers in 2015, bringing the force back up to full strength while adding to its diversity — a two-pronged goal it struggled to reach last year.

Mayor Betsy Hodges and Chief Janeé Harteau pledged last year to boost the number of officers on the force by nearly 100 after its ranks dipped to its lowest totals in nearly 30 years amid an unusually large wave of retirements. The hires eventually would get the department past that threshold.

“We continue to get closer to our budgeted staffing levels as we work to keep Minneapolis as safe as it’s been in a generation,” Hodges said Friday through a spokeswoman. “Violent crime is at some of the lowest levels in decades, and the department continues to focus on Chief Harteau’s strategy of getting officers out of squads ... to engage with our residents and business owners.”

In late November, the latest crop of officers to hit Minneapolis streets, 24 in all (half of them hires from other departments) brought the total number of rank-and-file officers to 823, police officials said.

Now, with a total of 860 officers approved in the budget, the more difficult and time-consuming threshold to reach has been attracting more minority candidates. The department has said it wants to improve its relations with some of the city’s more ethnically diverse neighborhoods.

“Our work must focus on growing our talented force and ensuring that it reflects the neighborhoods that it serves,” Hodges said.

The department must weigh the need to replenish its ranks quickly with the desire to diversify, police spokesman John Elder said in an e-mail.

The latter goal can take longer to carry out. Minority candidates are in short supply, and those who are interested in law enforcement careers are competed for by many departments eager to diversify their forces, Elder said.

“MPD has found ourselves in the same position as many other police departments across the state,” he wrote. “ ... Thus we found ourselves competing against each other for the same candidates. We had a number of candidates that were offered positions, only to decline our offer for another department.”

More stringent education and training requirements for new officers have further diminished the pool.

Through December, the department had 823 rank-and-file officers, officials say, with another 12 recruits expected to complete their academy work in February.

A cadet class of 20 to 30 recruits is expected to be hired in March, while another recruit class of 20 to 30 is expected to come on board in September, officials said.

Reflecting those served

For years, Minneapolis police have faced criticism from civic leaders and community groups for the department’s lack of diversity — an issue getting fresh attention in the wake of recent high-profile killings around the country of several unarmed black men by officers.

Records show that even after years of diversity planning, legal action and federal mediation, the Minneapolis department’s numbers of black and Hispanic officers still don’t reflect the city’s racial makeup.

“Smaller departments need only hire one or two candidates of color to drastically increase their diversity,” Elder said in an e-mail. “MPD, however, must hire such candidates in great numbers to have the same impact.

“While we always look forward to hiring diversity from the traditional law enforcement process ... we also recognize the need to go outside that process to bring candidates aboard,” he continued.

The City Council has authorized the department to hire enough officers to raise the department to 860 officers.

At one point, following a series of pension-induced retirements, the total dipped to around 770 officers on the street, one of the lowest numbers in 25 years.

The city also has allocated spending from the general fund and through federal grants for the recruitment, training and hiring of 20 part-time civilian service officers and a single staff member to join the records unit, which is facing a backlog of data requests.