FRANKLIN — Republican lawmakers introduced new legislation Tuesday to address law enforcement staffing shortages in Wisconsin.
GOP leaders say action is needed now to recruit and retain police officers, but some Democrats say they disagree with using $25 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds on this package of bills when the state is sitting on a billion dollar surplus.
Local police chiefs stood alongside Republican lawmakers at the Franklin police station to make their case as to why legislation is needed to address rising crime and a shortage of law enforcement officers in Wisconsin. Sturtevant Police Chief Sean Marschke says he needs tools to attract more and better candidates.
"Next year will be my 30th year with the village, and when I applied for the position of police officer I was one of 150 applicants,” he said. “We have two open spots right now and we have 12 applications. So it just shows the applicant pool is not there."
Wisconsin Department of Justice data shows it’s a statewide issue. There are currently about 13,500 law enforcement officers in Wisconsin, the lowest number in at least a decade.
Meanwhile, law enforcement academy graduation rates show the same trend. 766 people entered the profession in Wisconsin last year, the fewest in at least 10 years.
"If you are in law enforcement right now, you would receive up to $2,000 bonus for being on the job,” Speaker Robin Vos said. “If you are someone who's a new hire and thinking about going into law enforcement, we would actually give a recruitment bonus for every person who comes onto the force. If you're living in another state like Illinois or Minnesota and you feel that they are not doing enough to support law enforcement, we've also got an effort to recruit people from other states to come to Wisconsin to help fill some of these unfilled jobs.”
Speaker Vos says his proposal would reimburse law enforcement academy costs that are currently covered by law enforcement agencies or the officers themselves. Republicans also want to spend $1 million on a pro-cop campaign to help recruit and retain officers.
Democratic Rep. David Bowen of Milwaukee says he’s willing to look at certain areas of the legislative package that would garner bipartisan support, but he thinks GOP leaders are looking for the funds in the wrong place.
"If this was a serious proposal, we have a billion dollars in state surplus dollars that we could tap into and have a conversation, not in just the legislature, but because Republicans are saying they want to use federal funding to have a proposal and not engage the governor is completely wrong,” Rep. Bowen said.
Republicans say the bills would be funded with $25 million federal ARPA dollars that have already been allocated to the state. Gov. Tony Evers holds full discretion of how federal COVID-19 relief dollars are spent. TMJ4 News asked Speaker Vos why pursue legislation when it could be done just by proposing it to Gov. Evers.
“I don’t really want to focus on just convincing one person, I’d rather have a broad, public, bipartisan support with lots of folks involved instead of just one person,” Speaker Vos responded.
Republican lawmakers say they believe this package of bills will pass the Republican-controlled legislature by mid-February, before going to Gov. Evers for final consideration.