A nationwide trend of declining applicants to law enforcement agencies is also carrying through to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers causing a shortage of DNR officers.
Conservation officers (COs) are responsible for enforcing laws and regulations under the jurisdiction of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. As a licensed peace officer, conservation officers enforce laws related to fish and wildlife, state parks, trails, forests, waters and wetlands. They also perform public relations and education duties throughout the state.
“All across the nation, law enforcement agencies are receiving fewer applicants for open positions,” said Minnesota DNR Communications Coordinator, Division of Enforcement, Joe Albert. “While we are fortunate to still receive interest from many qualified applicants, we are not immune to the nationwide trend.”
Albert said there are 155 conservation officer field stations in Minnesota, and 17 of them are currently vacant.
Albert added that the profession has been low in numbers for a few years. Two years ago, as part of an effort to bolster the ranks of conservation officers, the legislature provided additional funds to train and hire more conservation officers through the Conservation Officer Academy, which is in its 19th year. Another one is set to begin in the spring of 2020.
“That Academy will further reduce the number of vacancies, though the exact number depends on the number of retirements between now and when the 2020 Academy graduates are stationed a year from now,” said Albert.
ABC News reported in a September 2019 article that police agencies across the country are having trouble keeping and hiring police officers, according to a recent survey. The survey noted a decrease in applications, early exits and higher rates of retirement. One factor noted in the article for the decrease was the high degree of scrutiny officers receive.
Albert said that the DNR, through their conservation officer prep program, has been working hard for the past several years to attract applicants who don’t have a traditional law enforcement background.
“As part of that program, we consider applications from people who have a two-year degree in a discipline other than law enforcement,” he said. “The individuals we hire receive the necessary law enforcement education before attending our Conservation Officer Academy. The CO Prep program has expanded the diversity and background experience of our applicant pool.”
For more information on becoming a conservation officer, visit the following link: www.dnr.state.mn.us/enforcement/jobs/hiring.html.