'The crisis of tomorrow': Local law enforcement agencies say staffing, officer retention is becoming problematic
FRANKLIN, Wis. (CBS 58)-- Congressman Bryan Steil led a roundtable discussion about a recent rise in crime with law enforcement agencies in Southeastern Wisconsin on Thursday.
All of the agencies told Steil they're facing a similar cycle of not having enough money in the budget to hire and retain officers, leading to less patrols and increased response times.
"Our department is going to be in trouble," Milwaukee Police Association President Dale Bormann said. "It's at the lowest it's ever been right now."
Bormann said Milwaukee's police force is down by about 185 people, not including the 120 officers Mayor Tom Barrett's budget proposal would cut.
Barrett's office told CBS 58, rather than just making new hires, the budget aims to predict departures from the police force and replace those with new recruits.
"If the MPA or anyone else is concerned about police funding – and therefore staffing, they should ask Legislators in Madison to both increase shared revenue and allow local governments in Wisconsin to be able to raise additional revenue instead of only being able to rely on property taxes," Milwaukee Common Council President Cavalier Johnson said in a statement to CBS 58.
Milwaukee isn't alone.
"My staffing is going to be the crisis of tomorrow," Muskego Police Chief Stephen Westphal said. "The thing that scares me the most is simply our candidate pool is shrinking."
The agencies worry the lack in staffing reduces their ability to fulfill the basic duties of their jobs.
"Every citizen who calls in who is having a problem is going to have to wait. It's not wait a minute or two. It's wait 60 minutes, wait 90 minutes for an officer to arrive," Bormann said.
After a year of negativity toward the profession, Westphal said he's seeing officers look for jobs in communities that appreciate law enforcement or leave the industry altogether.
"We're human, but because we wear the badge, they think we sleep in these uniforms," Kenosha Police Officer Javier Vega said.
While community activists are asking elected officials to defund the police, these agencies' leaders told Steil they need more money to hire and retain personnel.
Congressman @BryanSteil is hosting a round table with local law enforcement agencies to talk about a rise in crime, what’s going wrong, and what can be done to change it.@MilwCoSheriff, @RacineSheriff, @WalworthSheriff among the agencies here.— Gabriella Bachara (@GabbyBachara) August 19, 2021
"I think we need to turn the tide on that and have a louder voice with those standing with our local law enforcement," Steil said.
No one at the discussion turned a blind-eye to the issues in the industry, but added that some of the solutions require money they don't have.
"I'm optimistic that we can see a piece of legislation come through that would provide the funding for things like body cameras and data storage, provide the funding for additional training," Steil said. "I'm going to keep fighting for that."
Other solutions brought to the table included community engagement and education.