MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- More than 200 officers have left the Minneapolis Police Department, or have gone on extended leave, since the murder of George Floyd.
The police union says an overwhelming number cited a lack of support, and felt left to fend for themselves during the riots.
Few have spoken out publicly since, but only on WCCO, one former officer agreed to tell Jennifer Mayerle about his decision to leave.
Steve Dykstra spent just over four years with MPD. The 42 year old had worked with juveniles in Hennepin County, and at the jail. He says he wanted to make a difference outside those walls.
"I wanted to help people. I think that's what all cops would say when they first get started. It's like, 'I want to help people.' And part of helping people is, for me anyway, it's stopping bad people from doing bad things," Dykstra said.
He says he did that, starting in the 3rd Precinct, then moving to the 2nd.
"We held our heads high. People, were, seemed for the most part, to be pretty motivated to get out there and to serve and protect," Dykstra said.
But Dykstra says even before the murder of George Floyd, he saw warning signs, including a change in the pursuit policy, on who police could chase, and when.
"It seemed like there was a back pedaling through policy. So we were always, they were always taking more away from us and what we could do," Dykstra said.
He says it concerned him at the time.
"I said, 'This isn't going to end well,'" Dykstra said.
And then came the events of May 25, 2020: the murder of George Floyd, and the unrest that followed.
"Standing out front of the 3rd Precinct, just taking our turn. Standing out in front, facing the crowd, and just, you know, just getting rocks and bottles and fireworks thrown at you," Dykstra said.
He says that's part of the job, what he signed up for. But what came next stopped him in his tracks.
"I saw them taking items out of the 3rd Precinct. Computers and sensitive equipment. I asked, 'What's going on?' And I was told, 'Oh yeah, we're pulling out, we're evacuating,'" Dykstra said. "I got a pit in my stomach at that point … And I had no, at that point, I had zero confidence in our upper echelon of leadership."
Rioters would breach the 3rd Precinct, setting it on fire as police abandoned the building.
"To me, I mean, you can't do that. You can't preserve law and order if you let somebody desecrate the precinct," Dykstra said.
He says things also changed for officers on the street.
"All of a sudden it was, 'The Minneapolis Police Department is rotten to the root. Everybody with that uniform is a killer and a racist,'" Dykstra said. "You know, I don't see how you make that jump."
And it was during that time Dykstra knew his time with MPD was coming to a close.
"I stuck with it, you know, stuck it out for the people around you, but I kind of knew in my head, like, you know, this is over," Dykstra said.
He says it was hard to leave the job he had been proud of.
"It was hard. I did it out of principle, though. I'm the type of person who wants to do my job, and I'm not going to sit back and just be this do-nothing cop. You know, I signed up to do the job and to do it well. I don't want to be scared to do my job," he said.
So Dykstra left last August, and took a job in a small town in Iowa, joining a department of 12.
"Down here they appreciate you, you get a lot of support from the community," Dykstra said. "Less going on, of course."
And he stands behind his decision to leave.
"I don't know how it will all end up, but I have the love of my life, I have my four kids, and I have my faith in God, and I think that's enough," Dykstra said.
WCCO has been told more officers are leaving the department and are still finalizing paperwork. MPD officials declined to comment.
Here's the full statement from Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis President Sgt. Sherral Schmidt:
When you ask why so many officers have left the department in the past year, there are many reasons. The events of the past year have immensely impacted, not only our communities, but the police profession.
As a profession, we are demonized daily by many who have created a dangerous false narrative that is perpetuated by the media. Many careers were destroyed over the last year. Many officers had to leave the profession because of the experiences they were put through during the violent protests last year. Those experiences proved to be too much for them. They were unable to process the events and continue in the profession where they felt a calling to protect and serve the community. Their lives and their family's lives are forever changed.
Furthermore, officers feel a lack of support throughout all levels of leadership, from our elected officials who have pushed a defund movement, to a City Attorney whose biases against the police were publicized in a local newspaper article, to a City Manager who sends out citywide communications with anti-police sentiments.
Additionally, officers feel a lack of support from the front office on multiple levels. These are just a few quick examples of the City leadership's lack of care or support for the men and women who continue to serve the City of Minneapolis with honor every day.
If all of that is not enough, the department is under an investigation from the MDHR that seemingly has no limits on its scope and more recently the DOJ announced a pattern and practice investigation.
The false narratives spewed by uninformed politicians, activist groups and ultimately pushed by the media has added to the hatred towards the police, diminishing trust and support from the community.
Many in our profession are tired. Their families are tired. The daily attacks wear a person down.
So when you ask why so many are leaving take a look at how backwards our world is right now. Take a look at the lack of respect not only for the police, but the lack of respect for one another. The men and women who put on the uniform every day to protect others are hated. They are the targets of unprovoked verbal attacks and also physical attacks. Hostility is directed at them daily simply because of the uniform they wear.
So when you ask why police are leaving, pick any of the above.
Sadly, we have lost and continue to lose officers who were damn good cops and served this department honorably.
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