SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — 23-year-old M’Kayla Mike is training now in Sioux Falls to join the Sioux Falls Police Department, but her story began in the Caribbean in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She eventually moved much closer to South Dakota.

“I moved to Minnesota, and I lived with my brother, and then I attended Minnesota West over in Worthington, and I played basketball, and I studied law enforcement there, and then I moved to Sioux Falls,” Mike said.

Her aunt inspired her to work in law enforcement.

“Growing up the environment, it wasn’t always the best, and she would always come around and make sure that everything was okay,” Mike said. “So that kind of really, like, stuck with me throughout my years.”

There are, of course, many places she could be launching a career in law enforcement.

“Initially, I wanted to go somewhere warmer, but the people really stuck with me, and I enjoyed the environment,” Mike said.

But, in spite of temperatures that aren’t always exactly tropical, she was drawn to emulate what she observed.

“I went to different activities throughout the summer, and I’ve seen the way that the officers interact with the public,” Mike said. “And every time I saw that I was like, I just, I aspire to do the same thing as well.”

For her, a signing bonus didn’t influence the decision to apply.

“Honestly, when I applied, I didn’t even know about it, so that had nothing to do with my decision to apply, but it was really nice to have it,” Mike said.

“With the competitive environment, we really felt we needed to offer these incentives or these hiring bonuses,” Sioux Falls Police Chief Jon Thum said. “Well, quickly it became the industry norm, where almost every law enforcement agency is offering a hiring bonus.”

Thum says that without offering a signing bonus, the department would fall short. Newly-hired officers can now earn a $1,000 signing bonus on their first paycheck as well as a $4,000 bonus when they pass a 15-month probation successfully.

“To not have a hiring bonus is to really not be competitive with some of the other offers that are out there,” Thum said.

Sioux Falls Police Department Capt. Jon Lohr recruits and hires candidates for the department. They’re not far from a fully-staffed force, which would be 288 sworn officers.

“Less than 10 positions are open with our department right now and to some extent, we actually feel a little bit fortunate about that,” Lohr said.

Fortunate, he says, because of how other departments are doing.

“We know what it looks like nationally, and we know that there’s a lot of departments that are hurting a lot worse than we are, so we do feel like we’re somewhat fortunate to see the number of candidates that are coming in the door,” Lohr said.

“I want to stress that we as an agency are doing well compared to some of our competitors nationwide and regionally,” Thum said.

Of course, the Sioux Falls Police Department isn’t just competing for new recruits with other law enforcement agencies.

“We realize that we’re competing with just about any other jobs that are out there, so we need to be competitive not just with other law enforcement agencies but we got to be competitive with other employers,” Lohr said.

As for Mike, she knows where she wants to be. She has her eye on detective work for the Sioux Falls Police Department.

“It’s interesting to just figure things out and make your brain work a little bit extra,” Mike said.

According to Sioux Falls Police Department spokesperson Sam Clemens, the department has 241 male officers and 41 female officers. By percentage, it’s 85% men and 15% women.

Data shows the department becoming more diverse. In 2020, 9% of newly-hired officers self-reported as non-white. In 2021, 12% of newly-hired officers self-reported as non-white.

According to Clemens, in 2022, there were 35 officers hired, with 10 of them (29%) self-reporting as non-white or multiracial.