To protect and to serve in Minnesota can be expensive

By the time they graduated from the academy earlier in March, Minneapolis’ newest police officers had everything they needed to bring criminals to justice.

Everything, that is, except a gun. And handcuffs. And a flashlight.

For that they were sent to KEEPRS or Uniforms Unlimited, among a handful of Twin Cities-area stores that sell uniforms, bullet-resistant vests, flashlights and other gear to make officers’ jobs easier and safer — but that the department does not automatically provide.

Before hitting the streets, new recruits are required to buy their own sidearms ($600-$700) and holsters ($100-$200), although the department does supply ammunition. Collapsible batons, chemical spray, handcuffs — both metal and the plastic variety used in riot-type situations — and a leather utility belt to hold these items are other must-haves.

A new officer in some Minnesota cities can spend $7,000 just to hit the streets, and that cost is rising every year as departments and officers are presented with a range of new gear, attire and technology. The debate over officer gear has intensified lately as law enforcement agencies around the country are spending millions of dollars to outfit officers with new body-camera technology.

“It’s been a learning process over a lot of years,” said Rich Roberts, spokesman for the Florida-based International Union of Police Associations. As a result, he says, police gear has gotten “more effective, lighter and less intrusive.”

But it is up to each officer to decide what to wear and how much to spend.

Minneapolis police Sgt. Steven Bantle, an 18-year veteran who runs the training academy, said that officers receive an annual equipment allowance of $980 — rookie cops get three years, or $2,940, up front to start building their wardrobes.

New recruits, who take home between $54,496 and $69,576 a year, often pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket to buy extra gear.

The list of what police officers must buy is long.

Minneapolis provides each officer with a badge, but some officers like buying an extra shield or two to carry, for example, in their wallets. Each one costs about $100, and that money comes out of their own pocket.

Some equipment choices, Bantle says, reflect a generational divide. Older officers often prefer heavy-duty Mag-Lite or Streamlight flashlights that were popular in the 1980s and 1990s. These imposing flashlights can be used as a club in a pinch, unlike the newer and smaller high-intensity models.

Like with most modern technology, gear is always getting smaller, lighter and less cumbersome.

“Everything we carry is more compact,” Bantle said.

The department also has begun phasing out older handguns in favor smaller and lighter models, like a 9-millimeter Smith & Wesson M & P. Exceptions are made for those working undercover and senior officers who are allowed to continue carrying full-size revolvers.

Costs can soar for the everyday gear that might not be as exciting, but just as essential.

Rubber gloves, inclement weather gear (hats, jackets and boots), tourniquets, traffic whistles and other items that police say are indispensable can make shopping trips pricey, fast, Bantle said.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, himself a longtime Minneapolis police officer, said the cost of outfitting officers has risen in part due to shifting demographics.