Fewer recruits for law enforcement as a career is worrying state law enforcement officials and area police chiefs.
In 2015, the New Berlin Police Department held a recruitment drive and 225 applied, said Chief Joe Reider. Only 136 came out last year, and only 85 of those actually came to be tested, he said. And with the washout rate being about 50 percent, your are left with 40 candidates, he said.
"Forty candidates, which is not a lot," Reider said.
"It's getting hard to hire," he said.
The story was similar in Muskego where Police Chief Rick Rens said, "Hiring has been a struggle for us."
"Back in the day," he said, an opening could attract 200 or 300 applicants.
"If we get 30 or 40 who qualify, we're doing really well," Rens said.
They aren't alone. Police chiefs throughout the state have been saying the same thing, said Brian Dorow, associate dean of criminal justice at Waukesha County Technical College. As a result, the Wisconsin Department of Justice training and standards division has established a committee to determine what needs to be done to make sure enough people want to go into law enforcement.
The committee includes sheriffs, police chiefs and training officers, Dorow said.
There's one bright spot, despite the lower numbers, Rens said.
"We're still getting good people," he said.
Dorow echoed that assessment.
"A higher quality of candidate is entering our police academy," Dorow said he has observed.
That has been a blessing for Muskego, which has hired 11 new patrolmen in the last three years to replace those who retired. The department has 16 patrolmen.
"We have a pretty young department," Rens acknowledged.
Not only that, the department will need more in the next five years. As many as five senior officers will be eligible to retire by then, Rens said. Like other police departments, Muskego promotes from within, so getting quality officers as patrolmen is essential as they will form a future officer pool, Rens said.
New Berlin police will seek to fill four patrolman positions this year, Reider said. In the coming years, probably two to three per year will need to be filled, he said.
New Berlin picks the best recruit, regardless of whether he or she has been to a police academy. The department will send a bright prospect through the academy with the expectation of getting the best candidate, Reider said.
The problem is that police training was significantly lengthened a year ago and possibilities for recruits washing out for things like physical fitness has increased, he said. If a candidate does wash out, the department would have to start over, he said. If they didn't, they wouldn't be ready for duty until about this time next year, Reider said, as the next academy class doesn't start until August.
To deal with dwindling numbers of applicants, chiefs in both local departments say they are exploring the concept of continuous recruitment instead of relying only on recruitment drives.
"That way candidates can jump online and apply," Reider said.
A kind of double whammy is operating with police recruitment. The trend is less interest in the field and it is now harder than ever to become a police officer. The state increased training requirements from 520 hours to 720 hours. That is in addition to whatever college requirements individual police departments require. Those 720 hours just qualify recruits to go out on the street with a field training officer in the department that hires them.
Many of those new training hours are being used for additional training to handle scenarios. The chiefs like that additional training, but it introduces more chances to wash out of the academy. Candidates must pass scenario training, Reider said.
The state also instituted a uniform physical fitness requirements, replacing requirements of individual departments. While candidates can be accepted into a police academy making minimum scores, all graduates have to meet the graduation standard.
The fitness standards include:
- 1.5-mile run in 16 minutes, 57 seconds
- 300-meter run in 68 seconds
- pushups 23
- situps 30
- agility run 19.5 seconds
- vertical jump 14 inches