Sheriff’s Office not immune to shortage of employees

Department that used to receive hundreds of applications for a single job now receives relatively few
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press staff

The well-documented troubles businesses are having filling job vacancies extends to filling openings at law enforcement agencies, including the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office.

“When I was hired (as a jail deputy) in the early ‘90s, there were between 200 to 300 applicants,” Sheriff Jim Johnson said. “Now we typically get fewer than 30.”

The biggest factor is the economy, with unemployment being at record or near-record lows for some time, he said. When the economy is booming, fewer people seek employment in public service professions. 

“When the economy is doing poor, we tend to have more (applicants),” Johnson said.

It’s a nationwide problem as the number of sworn officers has dropped by about 23,000 by one count and the average number of officers per 1,000 residents has dropped from 2.42 to 2.18, according to reports.

Besides the improved economy, some larger, more urban departments also have reported less interest in the law enforcement profession after a spate of viral videos of controversial incidents of use of force by police.

Johnson was skeptical of that, saying he has not sensed that to be the case and has not seen research to support that contention.

“There has been some public opinion that may have affected people’s desire to enter public service and law enforcement. But that’s all it is — only people’s opinions,” he said.

When openings occur in patrol or other divisions, Johnson said it’s standard practice to fill those positions from within through promotion and fill the lower ranks with new hires, some of them with law enforcement experience but also some out of college or from police academies. 

The nature of the job also has evolved over the years.

The only requirement is 60 college credits, regardless of the area of study, Johnson said. When Johnson started, passing an agility test was required. No longer, he said.

He also said his department and others emphasize community service and interaction perhaps more than in the past.

“We place a lot of emphasis on working with the community. We’ve launched a number of programs in the last few years to help the community understand who we are,” he said.

Those include school-related programs such as Cops and Kids, engaging with 4-H and crisis intervention and team training exercises in conjunction with the Ozaukee County Health and Human Services, schools and other police departments.

“That’s who we are. We believe in working side by side with the community. That’s the kind of people we look for,” he said.

While some large city police department advertise in other cities to draw officers away — a practice known as “lateral hiring” or, less euphemistically, “poaching”— Johnson said that has not been a concern or a practice of his.

“I think we have a great place to work. There are plenty of other great places to work in Wisconsin too,” he said.  “People want to move here because they like Ozaukee County. We’re a freindly community and we have great law enforcement communities.” 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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