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12/06/2023 04:33PM  
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12/06/2023 04:37PM  
Canoes for cops: Ely uses outdoor vibe to recruit police officers
Like many other towns and cities, the Boundary Waters gateway community is struggling to keep its force staffed.
By Reid Forgrave Star Tribune DECEMBER 6, 2023 — 2:47PM

The Ely Police Department is offering free Kevlar canoes to attract new hires and retain current employees.
Ely is not an easy place to get to. The idyllic forest town of 3,000 near the Canadian border is best known as a gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. You don't come upon this outdoor paradise by accident.

This is the town's blessing, but it also creates a problem for its police force. When an officer leaves next week for another job, the department's staffing will be down to five of seven officers, including the chief. Recruiting here is tough, especially as law enforcement nationwide confronts a recruitment and retention crisis.

Assistant chief Mike Lorenz had a unique idea earlier this year: Why not tap into the area's greatest asset and offer new hires a free canoe?

"At first I laughed," said Ely police chief Chad Houde, who moved to Ely nearly two decades ago from the Twin Cities because he loved the outdoor opportunities. "We're primarily known as the gateway to the Boundary Waters. How do we sell that? And how do we retain our guys? We need to be creative. We need to stand out."

After getting approval from the city council this week, Houde hopes their unusual offer — a free Kevlar canoe purchased from local retailers, plus two paddles and two lifejackets — will draw more applicants. The package is worth about $4,000.

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