'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 with law enforcement agencies across Southeastern Wisconsin Thursday, Aug. 19, about the rise in crime rates and what could turn the trend around.
All of the agencies said they're facing a similar cycle. There's not 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 officers, not including the 120 Mayor Tom Barrett's budget proposal would cut.
Other agencies agree, it's hard to even fill the schedule.
"My staffing is going to be the crisis of tomorrow," Muskego Police Chief Stephen Westphal said. "The thing that scares me the most is our candidate pool is shrinking."
After a year of negativity toward the industry, Westphal said officers are looking for jobs in communities that appreciate law enforcement, or leaving the career altogether.
"We're human, but because we wear the badge, they think we sleep in these uniforms," Kenosha Police Officer Javier Vega said.
The sheriffs and police chiefs at the roundtable discussion on Thursday are concerned the lack in staffing is negatively impacting the basic duties of their job.
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
"Every citizen who calls in who is having a problem is going to have to wait, and it's not wait a minute or two. It's wait 60 minutes, wait 90 minutes for an officer to arrive," Bormann said.
While community activists are asking elected officials to defund the police, the agencies told Steil they need more money in their budgets to hire and retain personnel.
"I think we need to turn the tide on that and have a louder voice with those standing with our local law enforcement," Steil told CBS 58.
The Milwaukee mayor's office told CBS 58 rather than just making new hires like the union wants, the budget aims at predicting departures from the police force and balancing those out 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," Common Council President Cavalier Johnson said in a statement to CBS 58.
The agencies' leaders didn't turn a blind eye to the issues of the industry, but added many of the solutions require more funding.
"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, and I'm going to keep fighting for that," Steil said.
Some officials at the discussion suggested more education and outreach in the community would make a difference in crime rates.
"If we can start having that larger robust conversation, we can start looking at fixing some of the things that are wrong in this system," Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas said.