A small-town Minnesota police department is offering its officers a one-month paid sabbatical to officers to recruit, retain and improve the overall health of its sworn personnel.
The Paynesville Police Department — a department of four officers that serves a city with a population of just 2,500 residents – believes the unique proposal will reduce overall stress and increase the longevity of its officers.
Officer Cody Haakonson, currently the longest-serving officer in Paynesville at just under three years, talked about his experience and responsibilities.
“Every day is different,” Haakonson told Fox 9. “I get to see so many different experiences, see so many different people.”
But working for a small town does not mean he’s not busy. Officers in Paynesville handle homicides, drug cases and domestic calls routinely. Not having many fellow officers to shoulder the burden takes its toll on the few responsible officers.
To take some of the load off, Chief Paul Wegner decided to give his officers a one-month paid vacation.
“Usually, you start seeing guys struggle between year three and five,” Chief Wegner said. “They’ve been in long enough, they’ve seen enough, they’ve dealt with enough, you know, and now they’re starting to experience some of that stress.”
Now, officers will be able to remove themselves completely from their job for one whole month to decompress. Wegner said that companies that provide such benefits yield more productivity and retention in the long run.
“The more I kind of researched it, the more I found that companies would see better production from their staff,” said Chief Wegner. “It decreased the errors and mistakes that were being made because they were more focused on what needed to be done and ultimately their job performance improved and increased.”
Wegner and the police union managed to convince the mayor and the city council to accept the change, arguing that a sabbatical would allow the department to retain more officers and is more cost-effective than losing officers to burnout or mental health issues.
The small department started coming up with innovative health and wellness ideas back in 2018 when they created a program to provide officers with free access to a gym, as well as two meetings a year with a psychologist or a chaplain.
Now, Wegner hopes to cycle the sabbatical once every three or four years.
“Yeah, I don’t have any plans of leaving, and I absolutely don’t now because I think the city and city council members have shown that they’re willing to invest in us,” Officer Haakonson said.