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A western Minnesota city council voted to dissolve its police department as it struggles to employ enough officers and staff.

A meeting held last week by Morris City Council members revealed the department only has a chief and another officer currently working. Typically, the city of 5,200 people requires at least eight officers to be employed, as well as one administrative specialist. 

The city council voted 4-1 to disband the department and contract with the Stevens County Sheriff's Department to provide police services. The department, which has been servicing the area for over 140 years, will officially wrap up its existence at the end of the year.

One option the council considered was to seek out new leadership and recruit new officers. But Morris is facing the same struggles a lot of police departments across the country have been experiencing in finding and retaining new employees, while seeing increased officer attrition.

According to a survey of 200 police departments by the Police Executive Research Forum, agencies saw a dramatic rise in the past three years of officers resigning from their positions or retiring. However, most of the agencies that experienced this were departments with more than 50 staff members. Smaller departments saw a slight increase in hiring from 2019-2021, but the survey notes that a majority of the smaller agencies saw the highest rate of retirement among them.

Morris city manager Blaine Hill called it a "sad day," noting that the decision to disband the department leaves them no choice because of the circumstances. Another council member stated it was "the hardest decision that's come upon me in 21 years of being on the council."

On June 20, the city council and Mayor Sheldon Giese had issued a statement that addressed the ongoing challenges, saying that the staffing problem was a "temporary issue" and that the department. "is not going away anytime soon."

The Stevens County Sheriff's Office, which currently consists of seven staff members itself, already provides service all over the county, but Morris would be a new area to cover. The meeting discussed how the sheriff's office has already filled in for some services that the police department otherwise could not provide.

Sheriff Jason Dingman spoke at the meeting, saying understood the council's decision and that the residents in Morris don't need to be concerned about what's ahead.

"I can guarantee to the citizens of Morris that they're not gonna see a blip on the radar as far as coverage [for service needs]," Dingman said. "The only difference is when they call for help, they will see someone arrive in a brown uniform instead of a blue uniform."

A county board meeting was held Wednesday morning to discuss the arrangement for the sheriff's office, both short term and long term. Bring Me The News reached out to county administrator Rebecca Young for more information.

You can watch the city council meeting held on July 12, 2022 below.

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