Minn. Sheriff Hopes Change to Cruiser Policy Helps Officer Recruitment

May 21, 2024
Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson hopes a change in the agency's policies when it comes to squad cars can help draw experienced deputies to fill future staff openings.

ROCHESTER, MN — Olmsted County expects to see two to three deputies retire annually for the next five years.

Sheriff Kevin Torgerson hopes a change in squad-car policy can help draw experienced deputies to fill future openings on his staff.

Current policy says deputies living within a 5-mile drive from Olmsted County can take their cars home at night, while others must park them at Graham Park at the end of their shifts.

"It's been a topic of conversation quite often, where staff are telling us that there are other currently serving law enforcement, experienced people ... who would like to come here, but that is one of those issues that is stopping them," he said.

Chief Deputy Brian Howard said a police officer or deputy in a neighboring county might consider joining the Olmsted County force, but if that person already owns a home outside of the county, current prices and interest rates could make relocating costly.

"If they go to another department, they are going to get the car," he said. "If we are not offering that, they will go somewhere else."

Howard said policies regarding vehicles vary in southeast Minnesota counties, with several offering options that extend beyond the 5-mile limit seen in Olmsted County. He said department discussions in Olmsted County have included suggestions to extend the range to within 10 miles of the county border and also to allow deputies to have their patrol vehicles parked anywhere in a neighboring county.

Currently, 78 of Olmsted County's 83 deputies have county-issued cars. Four of them are not allowed to drive their patrol vehicles home because they live outside the 5-mile limit.

Two live in Lake City, one lives west of Zumbrota and one lives in Dodge Center.

Howard and Torgerson said the reasons for deputies living outside the county vary, but they typically would prefer to find a home they can afford within the county they serve.

"Most people want to come here, and the farthest away right now is 15 to 20 miles," Howard told county commissioners during a recent committee discussion of the proposed policy change.

County Board Chairwoman Sheila Kiscaden said she remembers when the county first allowed deputies living outside the county to drive their vehicles home, pointing to the change made in the past decade.

She said the circumstances involved a local deputy married to a Goodhue deputy, and the couple owned a home just outside the Olmsted County line.

She questioned whether allowing deputies to live farther away and maintain the benefit of driving a county vehicle home would offset the advantage of being able to respond quickly if called while off duty.

"That piece of your original rationale is gone," she said of the reason for issuing individual cars.

Torgerson said deputies outside of the 5-mile limit now need to drive to Rochester before responding.

"It just adds another 45 minutes to something, where it could take them 30 minutes to get to that spot," he said of a deputy living in Lake City and responding to a call in Oronoco.

The sheriff said deputies get calls while off duty more than some people might think, including weather-related emergencies and searches. Some calls might require a specific deputy's specialized training.

When possible, Torgerson said the department tries to limit calls to people living in the area, but some circumstances require a broader call.

"If it's a critical incident, like a serious injury crash or suspect on the loose, that might be an all-hands-on-deck kind of situation," he said.

While Kiscaden voiced some concern about the proposed policy change, commissioners Mark Thein and Gregg Wright said they thought it was worth a try, if it helps recruit experienced deputies in the future.

"The main thing is this is a recruitment device, and we want good people," Wright said, pointing to potential support to extend the 5-mile limit to anywhere within a neighboring county.

The full county board is expected to consider the proposed policy change at a future meeting, but a date for potential review and a decision has not been set.


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