Want a new canoe? Then become a cop in the small, leafy town of Ely, Minnesota and you’ll get one free.
Ely – population circa 3,000 – is near the Canadian border and acts as gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. But it’s having a bit of a problem at the moment; one shared with small, rural communities across the US – recruiting new cops.
The local police force is currently down to just five officers, including the Chief, Chad Houde, and Assistant Chief Mike Lorenz.
Houde has also worked with the Ely Area Tourism Bureau to develop a new police badge that reflects the region’s outdoor experience, and a marketing video is in the pipeline.
It was Lorenz who first came up with a novel possible solution to their problem: encouraging watersports lovers to apply by offering new recruits a free canoe. After all, that’s why people come to the area. Indeed that’s exactly why the reason Houde ended up here – he moved to Ely nearly two decades ago from the Twin Cities to embrace the transformative power of the great outdoors.
Not that Houde was immediately convinced with the idea.
“At first I laughed,” he tells the Minnesota Star Tribune. But when he thought about it, maybe it wasn’t so crazy. “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.”
Houde presented his formalized plan – worked up by Lorenz – at a an Ely City Council this week.
The plan, which was passed, means all full-time employees at Ely Police, including clerical staff but excluding Police Chief Houde, will receive a Kevlar canoe along with paddles and life preservers, at a cost of $3,800 per person.
Assistant Chief Lorenz, handily also runs Gravel Lizard Guide Service, and he’s offering to take new recruits on a guided fishing trip on Lake Vermilion.
But if employees don’t stay with the department for at least three years, they'll have to pay back the department a portion of the value of the canoe, depending on their length of service.
Houde has one word of warning, though. Don’t fixate on the fact that canoes are made of Kevlar: “[They’re] not bulletproof, I know that,” he said.
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