Wisconsin Republicans introduced a package of legislation Tuesday that includes cash incentives to help with local police recruiting efforts. The bills are meant to help what was already a downward trend in the number of officer applicants that has only gotten worse thanks to protests against police brutality, especially following George Floyd’s death in May 2020.
“What we witnessed is a condemnation of our entire profession for the actions of one,” West Allis Police Chief Pat Mitchell said, according to the Associated Press. “It’s hurt our recruiting. It’s hurt our retention. ... We’re only as good as the quality of people we hire.”
The proposed bills include $5,000 signing bonuses, $2,000 for officers already on the force and reimbursement for testing and training.
I’m sure the downward trend in applicants has nothing to do with the amazing publicity Wisconsin police have gotten with the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha or the shootings of Alvin Cole or Jay Anderson Jr. in Wauwatosa. Who wouldn’t want to be one of the officers caught on camera with Kyle Rittenhouse the night he shot three protestors in Kenosha last August?
The bills would create $5,000 signing bonuses for police applicants and $2,000 retention bonuses for officers who stay on the job for at least a year. Local departments would have to pay half of the retention bonus and the state would cover the rest. Officers who relocate to Wisconsin and stay on the job for at least three years would be eligible for annual bonuses capped at $10,000.
The legislation would double the state reimbursement for annual officer recertification from $160 to $320; require at least two technical colleges to establish part-time police academies to attract recruits who work full-time; reimburse small departments for equipment and training costs up to $10,000; and create a marketing campaign to attract officer recruits.
About $25 million in federal COVID-19 pandemic relief would be used to fund the initiatives.
“We’re working to re-fund rather than defund the police,” Rep. William Pentermen, one of the package’s authors, said during the news conference, riffing on civil rights advocates’ call following Floyd’s death to cut police budgets.
The bills also would bar local governments from banning no-knock search warrants, and would require schools to teach students in grades 5 to 12 how to respect and cooperate with police officers, although school boards could vote to opt out of the mandate.
Democratic lawmakers raised concerns about the proposed legislative efforts to “re-fund the police” using COVID-19 relief.
“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, according to CBS 58.
The bills will need to be approved by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers who controls the allocation of federal funds for the state, CBS reports.