At least seven Minneapolis police officers have resigned from the department since widespread unrest began over the death of George Floyd last month, and more than half a dozen are in the process of leaving, according to department officials.
The departures, an unusually large exodus, come amid a growing crisis for the state's largest police force, with a state human rights investigation underway, calls for defunding, and even disbandment.
Morale has sunk to new lows in recent weeks, say department insiders, as officers reported feeling misunderstood and squeezed by all sides: by the state probe; by protesters, who hurled bricks and epithets their way; by city leaders, who surrendered a police station that later burned on national television, and by the media. Numerous officers and protesters were injured the rioting.
An uncertain fate for police is likely driving a rash of resignations for those who examine the political climate and think to themselves: "Why should I stay?" said Mylan Masson, a retired Minneapolis police officer and use-of-force expert. "They don't feel appreciated. Everybody hates the police right now. I mean everybody."
But those reactions are unlikely to generate much sympathy from social justice activists, who pointed out the irony of officers' use of tear gas and rubber bullets on crowds protesting Floyd's death and past cases of police brutality.
City spokesperson Casper Hill confirmed that seven officers have left the department, but did not make information about them available. Although their demographics and individual motivations are unclear, several officers in exit interviews cited a lack of support from MPD leadership and City Hall as protests escalated, according to the insiders, who requested anonymity so they could speak freely. Another seven officers are in the process of filing separation paperwork, and several others had to be talked out of leaving.
In an e-mail to supervisors earlier this month, a senior MPD official suggested that some officers had simply walked off the job in protest.
"During this busy and trying time I have heard secondhand information that there have been employees that have advised their supervisors that they separated with the city (or quit) without completing paperwork," deputy chief Henry Halvorson wrote in an e-mail, while directing officers wishing to leave to contact the human resources department. "We need to have the process completed to ensure that we know who is continuing to work."
A police spokesman on Friday said that the departures would not affect the quality of public safety services.
"There's nothing that leads us to believe that at this point the numbers are so great that it's going to be problematic," spokesman John Elder said of the parting officers, which include both patrol officers and detectives. "People seek to leave employment for a myriad reasons — the MPD is no exception."
The department currently has about 850 officers, almost 40 short of the number authorized for this year, Elder said, adding that a class of 29 recruits is expected to graduate and hit the streets later this summer.
Like other city departments, the MPD was already facing the possibility of layoffs from the COVID-19 pandemic, with early budget forecasts predicting revenue shortfalls of as much as $200 million this year, or roughly 12%.
And even before the unrest, an aging workforce had pressured police leadership to accelerate hiring to backfill dozens of veterans who joined the force during the Clinton presidency. As of Memorial Day, at least 75 officers were eligible to leave with full retirement benefits.
Andy Skoogman, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, said the ripple effects from Floyd's death are sure to exacerbate an uphill battle to recruit and retain officers nationwide.
A marked shift in public attitudes toward the profession, coupled with low pay and high turnover, has driven a 25-year low in applicants.
"It sets all of us back," Skoogman said of the fired officers' actions. However, for chiefs appalled by what they saw on the bystander video of Floyd's arrest, he said this may be a chance to rebuild their departments with individuals amenable to change.
"Perhaps it's an opportunity to bring in new blood and new people," Skoogman said, "but I worry that there simply aren't the candidates out there" to replace them.
Determining exactly who is leaving may be just as important as why, said Charles Wilson, president of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers. But the ongoing calls for downsizing the police department could have the unintended effect of alienating young officers who come to the job with a stronger mandate for public service, he said, and will inevitably hinder reform efforts. Intense backlash from Floyd's death reflects on officers in every agency — good and bad, he said.
"What people have to recognize, yes the institution of policing is inherently biased against people of color and it was designed to be that way," said Wilson, a retired Rhode Island lieutenant who also served as a chief in northern Ohio. "But having said that, it's only a few of the 700,000 police officers across the country who are idiots, and don't know how to treat people with dignity and respect."
Current and former police told the Star Tribune that officers were angry about Mayor Jacob Frey's decision to abandon the Third Precinct police station, a move that some within the department took to mean he was siding with the protests.
In an interview earlier this month, Chief Medaria Arradondo defended the action as necessary to protect the public and officers, but said he understood the frustration.
"I absolutely respect and understand how that is a deep part of our culture, but at the same time the cost of any one of my officers being severely injured, it's a cost too high that I refuse to pay," he said.
Floyd's death has been almost universally condemned inside the department, and a handful of officers issued a public letter embracing Arradondo and vowing to work toward regaining public trust.
In some ways, the flurry of recent resignations echoes a theme that surfaced around the time of the Fourth Precinct Occupation in 2015 after Jamar Clark was killed by police, when officers reported feeling abandoned by the administration and City Hall.
A 108-page federal report that followed protests after another controversial police killing described a "dynamic and chaotic" chain of events in which rank-and-file officers felt powerless, "as if they were left to deal with the occupation on their own."
Officers, in interviews with Justice Department officials, said they felt as if police and city leaders had sided with the community against them, particularly after they failed to authorize force in response to a series of attacks one night with rocks and Molotov cocktails.
Then, as now, some officers spoke of feeling underappreciated, and being asked to answer for the actions of one of their colleagues.
"It's a stressful job," said Masson, the use-of-force expert. "Their families are asking, 'Is it worth it?' "
The Associated Press contributed to this report.