Republicans propose cash incentives to fill police department vacancies
MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- As Wisconsin struggles to hire and retain police officers, Republican lawmakers are proposing cash incentives to help.
Republicans kicked off the new year by introducing a package of bills focused on funding law enforcement as departments nationwide are dealing with resignations and a lack of interest in the profession.
The legislative effort comes as police departments large and small are grappling with the fallout of the pandemic, a sharp increase in crime and calls for police accountability and reform.
Some of the GOP proposals include signing bonuses to new and experienced officers who relocate to Wisconsin, reimbursements for police academy costs and offering $2,000 to officers already on the force.
Rep. William Penterman (R-Columbus) touted the bills as a way to "refund, rather than defund, the police."
Currently, there are 13,576 law enforcement officers in Wisconsin, the lowest number in over a decade, according to Penterman.
Police departments for years have struggled to fill vacancies, but some officers say the problem only worsened after the world witnessed then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pin his knee on George Floyd's neck, eventually killing him.
"What we witnessed as a profession is a condemnation of our entire profession for the actions of one," said West Allis Police Chief Patrick Mitchell. "We are seeing officers leave in greater numbers now more than ever."
The bills would cost about $25 million and Republicans want to use federal COVID-19 relief aid to pay for it.
Lawmakers would need approval from Governor Tony Evers, who has control over how federal aid is spent.
Democrats criticized Republicans for seeking to use pandemic relief aid, instead of a portion of state surplus, to offer pay raises and reimbursements to law enforcement departments.
"The fact they are spending imaginary money instead of actually dipping into the state surplus shows they're talking about spending money that is intended to deal with COVID," said State Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee).
State Rep. Mark Born, co-chair of the Legislative Budget Committee, said he's confidant ARPA funds could be used to fund police departments.
"I think there are a number of areas of public safety that are directly related to COVID and their workforce challenges," said Born. "We're confident this is not only a proper use, but smart use of these funds."
Other law enforcement bills include:
- Requiring technical colleges to offer part-time police academy programs to help fill vacancies
- Creating a matching grant program for small police departments to cover the costs of equipment (uniforms, boosts, firearms) and testing requirements (drug tests, physical and psychological exams)
- Offering officers a $5,000 bonus, plus an additional $1,000 per year of experience, if they relocate to Wisconsin