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Proposal to boost police numbers doesn't find Rochester chief's support

Chief Jim Franklin said adopting a formula similar to Minneapolis would leave too many positions to fill and remove focus from finding the right fit for future needs.

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Six new Rochester Police officers are sworn in during a ceremony at the Rochester Police Department North Station June 2, 2021, in Northwest Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin file photo
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ROCHESTER — A proposal to expand Rochester’s police force based on a growing population fell flat after the city's police chief said he’d prefer to maintain the status quo.

“I think it’s not quite asking the right question,” Chief Jim Franklin said Tuesday of a proposal to set a formula for growing the police department.

He said retention of current officers should be a priority over recruiting more officers.

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The city’s Charter Commission started a discussion in September, regarding police staffing and whether the city should consider an approach similar to the one adopted in Minneapolis, which calls for a minimum staffing requirement of 0.0017 police employees per resident.

Franklin said a similar ratio in Rochester would require adding 55 officers to the city’s authorized 150.

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“I’ll just flat out tell you 205 is not the right number,” he said. “That feels very heavy.”

He added that the city’s current approach calls for looking at how many calls are received and how well officers respond to the calls, as well as the amount of flexibility for regular patrols and other aspects of police work.

Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin
Jim Franklin
Contributed

Additionally, he said recruitment to fill another 55 positions would be a challenge.

“It would take me about three years to get to 205 cops with the hiring process,” he said, pointing to more than 1,000 empty police positions statewide and a lack of new recruits.

The city currently has eight new officers in field training and plans to hire another seven to eight early next year, with the goal of being at full staff.

Franklin said the city needs to focus on making sure officers are supported and have the programs they need to maintain their fitness for duty, rather than shifting resources to recruitment.

Additionally, he said the city is on track with a broader approach.

“It’s not just about the police department,” he said. “It’s about all of city government, and I think there needs to be a balancing act.”

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Charter Commission members, who are responsible for making recommendations for potential changes in city practices, agreed but noted the discussion was worth having.

Benjamin Harris, who initially raised the issue, said in the earlier discussion and again Tuesday that the ratio could be adjusted to provide a smaller police force in Rochester.

The intent of the initial discussion was to make sure the size of the police force matched needs.

Franklin said Minneapolis is struggling with keeping up to the requirement in its charter, which requires 730 officers and has spurred courtroom debate on appropriate actions.

He said he’s not expecting to grow the force next year, based on the proposed 2023 budget, but will likely seek added officers in 2024. He said the department is currently reviewing potential future needs.

“We’re taking a look at trying to get to, right now, just right now, what are our next three-year and five-year needs, and trying to project that,” he said.

Commission members said they believe the department is on the right track after hearing from Franklin.

“I’m satisfied with what I heard,” Harris said.

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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