MINNEAPOLIS — Lori Young spent 15 years working for nonprofits, but as a woman and lesbian she never thought there would be a place for her in law enforcement.

Peter Bachhuber had jobs in retail and warehouses and most recently was driving a school bus, but the South Korean-born 35-year-old was looking for more challenging and stimulating work.

Both of them made a career change in the past few years and joined the State Patrol, and the agency is hoping more women and minorities will follow their lead. The patrol wants to hire 63 troopers, but with a growing anti-police sentiment, its pool of applicants is down sharply compared to previous years. It is accepting applications through Sunday.

"Today is they day to go in and fill out the application," said Col. Matt Langer, chief of the State Patrol. "We'd like nothing more than to have your name in our pool to become the next Minnesota State Patrol trooper."

The backlash against law enforcement spurred Young in 2017 to leave her job advocating for victims of sexual assault and don the badge.

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"It's the last thing I ever thought I'd be doing," said Young, 39. "Nobody was stepping up. I thought, if you don't who will?"

Young, who patrols in the Duluth area, went through the patrol's Law Enforcement Training Opportunity (LETO), a decade old program the agency uses diversify its force and recruit people who might not otherwise become troopers. LETO applicants need only a 2- or 4-year degree to apply. Young passed the Peace Officer Standards and Training exam then completed a trooper academy, all paid for by the State Patrol.

Young, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Japan in 1956, said she appreciates the benefits of health care, a pension and overtime pay. But being a trooper allows her to be her "whole self," reflect the community she serves and keep the public safe.

"It's hard to give out tickets, but if you don't enforce the law, crashes happen and families are impacted," she said. "People don't come home, or they come home paralyzed or missing an eye, things I've seen at crashes. That gives me motivation to take my time to see why people speed or don't wear a seat belt, and how we can fix that."

Women make up just 10% of the active 612 troopers. Many women have just the skills the patrol needs, including mothers who raised children, or those who have dealt with crabby customers at coffee shops, Young said.

"You have de-escalation skills," Young said. "You know how to work with people. You have customer service skills. It's not just dealing with bad guys. Women need to apply. They are qualified."

Bachhuber had not thought about a career in law enforcement until he saw a news story about the patrol recruiting troopers. He was unfulfilled driving a school bus and decided to give the patrol a try. He went through the LETO program and academy and became a trooper in 2018.

"I found my calling," he said.

Bachhuber, who patrols in the east metro, said the job entails a little bit of everything, including educating people, helping people in crisis and sometimes taking people to jail. He recently issued a speeding ticket to a driver who was his former junior high math teacher. But the bottom line, he said, the job is about helping people.

"You have to feel like you want to make a difference," Bachhuber said. "What you do is help people and the community you are from. Under this uniform, while it might bring negative connotations, it really is just a person under there."

State Patrol applications have fallen from a five-year high of 947 three years ago to just 304 as of Aug. 31 this year with just a few days left to apply for the jobs that begin at $31 an hour, according to the Department of Public Safety.

The median pay for police officers and detectives nationally in 2020 was $67,290, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Minnesota, the average yearly salary is $60,690 to $75,280 for police officers and sheriff's deputies, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The patrol is not the only agency seeing a decline in applications. Although the number of full-time sworn officers in general-purpose law enforcement nationwide rose by 8% from 1997 to 2016, that has not kept up with the growing U.S. population. The rate of officers per 1,000 citizens fell by 11% during that time frame, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Overall employment of police and detectives is projected to grow by 7% from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations. There will be about 67,100 openings for police and detectives each year, on average, over the decade with many of those resulting from the need to replace workers who leave the profession or retire, according to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

State Patrol applications and information is available at mntrooper.com.

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