On August 9, during a tense City Council meeting, the small town of Goodhue, Minnesota saw its Police Chief resign. During the following week, the conclusion of months of protracted wage negotiations was brought to a dismal end: one by one, all the police officers in town tendered their resignations.
As of August 23, the town no longer employs any full-time officers. While the County Sheriff’s office has been asked to step in, the town’s residents now have no official Police Force to back them up.
How the “Resignation Chain” Happened
For Goodhue’s Mayor Ellen Anderson Buck, the officer’s decision came as a “heartbreaking surprise.” In reality, it was months in the making.
Nevertheless, it was on August 9th that Police Chief Josh Smith tendered his resignation publicly, during a public hearing. The next day, the other two full-time officers in town resigned as well. On August 11th, they were followed by five part-time officers, which made up all the remaining staff.
One of the departing part-time officers, Matt Disbrow, told local ABC affiliate KAAL: “We were really there for him, more so than needing a part-time job. So with him going, there really wasn’t any need for us to stick around.”
But why were Goodhue’s policemen staying out of loyalty for one man?
What Pushed the Goodhue Police Department Away?
Goodhue is a 1,200-person town located in southeastern Minnesota, just 63 miles away from Minneapolis. Like many other small communities, its City Council is a tight-knit group of neighbors who often need to juggle competing financial constraints.
But too often, this tight balance was kept at the cost of its police officers. The Department has been understaffed for years, forcing its full-time officers to be on call 24 hours a day, with workweeks of up to 80 hours.
Earlier this year, following repeated complaints due to the rising cost of living, the City Council had approved a 5% raise for its Police Force. However, the resulting salary of just $22 an hour was significantly lower than the starting pay of neighboring cities or towns.
On July 26th, Chief Smith approached the City Council for emergency funds. All his current officers were being worked to the bone, but “trying to hire at $22 an hour, you’re never going to see another person again walk through those doors.”
He petitioned for a starting salary of $30 an hour, or incentives such as signing bonuses. When this request was denied, he felt forced to send his resignation at the next hearing.
Who is Guarding Goodhue now?
The part-time officers’ resignation was effective immediately. Chief Smith and his fellow full-timers stayed at their posts until August 23rd. This gave the city a small window of time to request emergency reinforcements.
For the town, the band-aid came in the form of a contract with the Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office. They have agreed to provide six hours of patrolling per day until December 31st. However, the County Sheriff could not spare enough officers for a fully-staffed unit, so the local Department remains four officers short.
Although the contract will likely be renewed for next year, the town of Goodhue now needs to race against time to train and hire new officers.