STURGEON BAY – More resources, more appreciation, better chances to hire.
At a time when law enforcement funding and its use are a topic of much discussion, if not controversy, law enforcement officials in Door County and Kewaunee have said their most great need in the years to come would be to have the manpower, the tools and the funds to continue to carry out their work. With the continued support of the public they serve.
“Resources are number 1,” said Sturgeon Bay Police Chief Clint Henry. “We are jack of all trades. When people have a problem, they call the police.”
Henry was joined by Kewaunee County Sheriff Matt Joski and Captain Carl Waterstreet of the Door County Sheriff’s Department at a January 7 press conference called by Assembly Representative Joel Kitchens R-Sturgeon Bay, who helped bring forward a set of law enforcement funding bills. in the Legislature earlier this week.
Kitchens noted that the conference also took place ahead of Wisconsin Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, which takes place on January 9 each year.
“Law enforcement, if you’ve watched, has been a hot topic in recent years,” Kitchens said.
The eight bills would provide a total of around $ 25 million and are primarily intended to help law enforcement agencies hire, retain and train officers and other staff, as well as increase public understanding and appreciation of their work.
“I’m not here to say that we have all the answers and that is going to fix it,” Kitchens said. “Law enforcement is under much more scrutiny than ever before. “
A number of Democrats in the Legislature have voiced their opposition to the bills in press releases, noting in particular that the funds would be one-time funds from the US federal bailout law to provide financial relief from the COVID-19 pandemic to businesses and workers.
They also said the two previous state budgets proposed by Governor Tony Evers would have allocated more than $ 50 million for law enforcement, but were slaughtered by the GOP. Kitchens said that while he did not know the details of these budget items and what they would have been used for, those funds would come from taxes.
If the bills are passed and survive Evers’ veto pen, among the things they would accomplish:
- Offer $ 5,000 signing bonuses to new law enforcement officers, with an additional $ 1,000 per year of experience up to $ 10,000 for officers moving to Wisconsin from outside of the state.
- Reimburse law enforcement academy fees for all officers.
- Provide $ 1 million to two state technical colleges to offer a part-time university program.
- Provide $ 1 million to the state Department of Justice and Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to work with local law enforcement agencies on “Pro-Cop Wisconsin,” a campaign to recruit and retain officers in and out of state.
- Demand that the State Department of Education create a model curriculum for use in schools on how to interact with officers.
- Provide more equipment for pre-employment testing of job applicants.
Another bill would prevent local elected officials and law enforcement officials from banning search warrants without hitting, a practice that has come under close scrutiny across the country and has been banned in Milwaukee this year.
Kitchens said the purpose of the bills, and the main reason for the press conference, was to hire agents. He noted that 13,576 law enforcement officers are currently working in Wisconsin, which he said is the lowest number in at least 10 years, while only 776 officers entered the profession in the year. last, also the lowest figure in a decade. Henry said his department now receives 50 to 60 applications for a vacant position compared to around 200.
Meanwhile, violent crime has increased 6% nationally and 9% in Wisconsin over the past year, Kitchens said, showing the need for more officers.
The three local officers who joined Kitchens said violent crime and criminality in general had not increased significantly of late in their areas of coverage.
But they also noted that they and other officers on their staff had been in post for around 30 years, and Joski said many of the crimes they see these days have gone from being called. break and enter type to crimes using more advanced technology, such as as well as calls related to illegal drugs.
“Technology helps us suppress a lot of crime,” Joski said. “But it also helps a lot of crime. It’s just a changing environment.”
“(Law enforcement) doesn’t have the number of candidates we’ve had in the past,” Kitchens said. “Ultimately, we need to recruit more young people into the profession.
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Kitchens has acknowledged that the challenges facing agencies such as those in Door and Kewaunee counties are different from those in metropolitan areas like Milwaukee or Madison, and this will be something he wants to make sure he doesn’t. is not lost in the shuffle while bills go through the Legislature. .
“It’s really important,” Kitchens said. “They face totally different challenges from those of officers in large departments.”
Waterstreet said people who become officers do so because they feel the need to serve the community, not because they think they are going to get rich. But Henry said the salary is important for potential agents who receive job offers from other places that have more money to offer.
“There is going to be a wage war,” Henry said. “In the future, looking at what other states are doing, it’s going to be a question of who has the most money.”
Getting help with the hiring process is important for local agencies. Joski said the process of history screening and psychiatric checks takes several months, and his department does as much screening as possible months before any opening. This includes testing the ethics and character of candidates to ensure the department hires officers it can trust in any situation, Joski said.
“It’s not just intense, it’s long,” Joski said of the hiring process. “We don’t have the luxury of, oh, when we get that opening, we’ll just fill it in.… We can’t take it as it comes.
“We try to examine the souls of the people we are looking to hire. We have to know that they are solid as a rock.… I can take anyone with a good character and make them a good cop. you don’t have that moral integrity, we can’t use you. “
This character is important in building trust with the community, agents said. They also said they felt their communities supported them well, especially given the distrust of law enforcement that prevails in large communities across the country.
“People support law enforcement, and it makes it much nicer to be an officer here than in other parts of the country,” Kitchens said. “We don’t want to take this for granted.”
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected]