PIERRE, S.D. — The state of South Dakota needs law officers and it appears to be finding some of them in other states.
On Nov. 18 Gov. Kristi Noem said the state had received applications from over 25 states for law enforcement jobs in South Dakota.
“You’ve all seen our marketing campaign that we’ve had with law enforcement officers,” Noem said.
The campaign has resulted in “hundreds” of applications including those from other states, she said.
Both the South Dakota Highway Patrol and the Sioux Falls Police Department have had out of state applications, officials from both department said.
Difficulties in recruiting and retaining law officers in South Dakota have been reported on by KELOLAND and other news outlets since 2017.
In October, the South Dakota Law Enforcement Officers Standards and Training Commission, granted six officers, including three state troopers, one officer each from Rapid City and Pierre and one from the Rosebud police departments reprieves after all six failed to pass mid-term exams twice.
In June, 12 law enforcement departments in South Dakota received federal grants toward hiring full time police officers.
Noem launched the nationwide campaign that focuses on filling open positions within the Departments of Public Safety, Corrections, and Game, Fish and Parks on Oct. 16.
As of Dec. 10, the highway patrol had received 54 applications from out of state residents, said Tony Mangan said, the communications director for the South Dakota Public Safety. Fourteen of those are certified officers, he said.
One city benefitting from outside interest is the Sioux Falls Police Department.
The city’s police department has had an increase interest from out of state certified law officers, said Kim Stulken, the human resources coordinator for the city of Sioux Falls.
Sioux Falls and South Dakota are viewed as a place where law enforcement is supported, Stulken said.
“(Law officers) from the East and West Coast have specifically been reaching out because of that,” Stulken said.
The department has already added four out of state certified officers to its newest recruiting class which starts on Feb. 8, said Sam Clemens, the department’s public information officer. Two are from California, one is from Tennessee and the fourth is from Louisiana, Clemens said.
The department has received 82 applications from out of state residents over the past six months, Clemens said. The department has received 211 applicants during that time.
The 82 out of state applications in the past six months is only 26 fewer than the total 108 out of state applications received in 2019, Stulken said. Sioux Falls Police received 384 total applications in 2019, she said.
Although applications and interest from out of state residents has increased, Stulken also noted that out of state applicants also include those from neighboring states including Minnesota and Iowa.
Mangan said the state highway patrol does not have a record of how many out of state applications it received in 2019. “Historically, we have not kept that number, but the highway patrol has always recruited out of state applicants as well (as in state),” Mangan said.
Noem seized what she saw as an opportunity for the state in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd who died on May 25 after a Minneapolis Police Officer pinned Floyd on the ground with a knee Floyd’s neck for several minutes on a city street. Peaceful protests, incidents of violence including confrontations with police that followed Floyd’s death happened in several cities in the U.S.
“While other states and cities are demonizing law enforcement officials, South Dakota is going to take a different path. We respect the work public safety officials are doing to keep our communities safe and welcome you to come join us,” Noem said in her Oct. 16 news release.
While interest from outside of South Dakota has increased, the state and local departments may still have challenges in recruiting and retaining law officers.
According to wallethub.com, as of May 11, South Dakota ranked 23rd in the best state to be a police officer. While the stated scored a high six in quality of life it got a score of 48 in terms of pay.
An April 23, 2019, gathering of 53 South Dakota state and local law enforcement leaders revealed that “reduced budgets and the impacts on staffing and resources” has had a negative impact on enforcement and investigation, according to 2020 report from the National Police Foundation called “Conversations with Rural Law Enforcement Leaders.”
Rural sheriffs also said areas that do not have adequate housing or entertainment make it difficult to attract recruits, according to the report.
Pay can also be an issue in recruitment and retention in South Dakota.
The entry-level salary for most law enforcement agencies in South Dakota is about $40,000 to $48,000 per year, according to the 2020 National Police Foundation report.
During a Dec. 10 news conference on drug crime, Sioux Falls Police Chief Matt Burns also commented on the interest from out of state applicants.
“We have seen an incredible influx of applications from certified officers and others across the country…,” Burns said.
“These officers are liking what they see in Sioux Falls and in our department,” Burns said.
Applicants to Sioux Falls positions have expressed they want to work in a community that supports them and want to be able to do their jobs safely, Burns said.
The department intends to hire the best of those applicants, Burns said.
An applicant who is certified is one who has met requirements of a state or specific department that may involve testing and training. Although an officer may be certified in one state, they may still need to complete training, or an academy, in another state.
In South Dakota, a certified officer hired by a South Dakota department can qualify as a reciprocity student for the certification process. According to the Attorney General’s office, if the officer’s training meets, or exceeds, South Dakota’s requirements for training, the past law enforcement training would be accepted as equivalent training. Once the officer passes a written test the officer needs only to complete one to a week and half of training.
“Certified officers that receive an offer of employment will qualify for the SDHP’s fast track academy,” Mangan said.
South Dakota is not the only state having trouble finding law officers. Other states have had issues attracting and retaining police officers.
The U.S. Department of Justice said that in 2016, the U.S. had 2.17 officers for every 1,000 U.S. residents. That’s down from 2.42 in 1996
A recent survey study by the International Association of Police Chiefs said respondents cited two main issues with recruiting: the number of applicants is low and the quality of applicants is often poor.
Fewer people are attracted to the position because of risk, hours and other reasons. That’s compounded by an increasing number of officers who are eligible to retire while others are leaving before retirement, according to a September 2019 study by the Police Executive Research Forum.