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In-Depth: Local police department offering incentive to attract new officers

Wauwatosa Police Department
Posted at 5:50 PM, Feb 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-02 19:23:58-05

WAUWATOSA, Wis. — The Wauwatosa Police Department is offering large hiring bonuses to attract new officers.

This comes as new Wisconsin Department of Justice data shows there are currently fewer law enforcement officers that at any time in the past decade.

Inside the Wauwatosa Police Department lobby, fliers can be found promoting a hiring bonus of $7,500 for new officers. Wauwatosa police say they’re already dealing with an officer shortage and anticipated retirements are only adding to their urgency.

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Including the large hiring bonus, new Wauwatosa police officers stand to make $69,275 in their first year on the job. That’s $9,000 more than what new officers make in neighboring Milwaukee.

“We believe the sign on bonus just adds another attraction to say we really want you to come work for us and we’ll give you the additional money and we’ll give you great training and great career opportunities at the same time,” said Wauwatosa Police Lt. Katie Gierach.

Lt. Gierach is Wauwatosa Police Department’s Director of Training and Personnel. She says the department is 12 officers short of being fully staffed and they’re anticipating 20 officer retirements over the next five years.

“A large number of our force is nearing retirement age so in the next few years they will be seeking retirement and we’ll need to bring new officers on board to take their place,” she said.

A TMJ4 open records request found that about 400 people applied to be a Wauwatosa police officer for three straight years, but only 8 to 10 were hired. Lt. Gierach says a large number of applicants don’t meet the minimum requirements.

Wauwatosa officer applicants vs. hires .png

“It’s a challenge,” she said. “When we run a physical fitness test and we have those people there ready to see if they’ve got what it takes physically, the one thing we tell them is the number one thing it takes to be a cop is courage and right now more than ever it almost takes courage just to sign up to do the job.”

Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association President Patrick Mitchell says police recruiting statewide has been extremely challenging for the past two years.

“You combine the tight labor market with some of the negative publicity that law enforcement has gotten and I think it’s been a double-whammy if you will,” Chief Mitchell said.

The latest data available from the Department of Justice shows there are currently 13,443 law enforcement officers in Wisconsin which is 2,500 fewer than a decade ago.

Law enforcement officers in Wisconsin .png

Mitchell, who is the West Aliis police chief, says everything department in Wisconsin is struggling to find new officers.

“We did a recruitment in the fall of 2021, we got 17 applicants,” he said. “Years ago, that would have been 50 or way past that would have been several hundred people applying.”

Wauwatosa Police Department’s hiring bonus will remain in place through the end of 2022.

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