By DENEEN SMITH
KENOSHA, Wis. (AP) — At a time when the number of people applying to be police officers is on the decline, the Kenosha Police Department is putting out a call for new recruits.
The department is in its annual recruitment period, asking candidates to put in applications — the first step in a hiring process that takes months.
A couple decades ago, that call would have been met by a flood of applications. But interest in public safety jobs — both at police departments and fire departments — has been on the decline.
“I can still remember the days, which don’t seem that long ago, when we had in excess of 1,000 applicants,” said Steve Stanczek, human resources director for the City of Kenosha. “There has been an absolute decline over the last five years. What makes it that much more challenging is there is a high attrition rate through the process.”
Stanczek said there were 481 applicants in 2018. In 2020, during the most recent round of hiring, there were 240 applicants, the Kenosha News reported.
The minimum requirements to apply are fairly low — candidates must be 18 years old, be a high school graduate, have a good driving record and no felony convictions, as well as being able to meet the physical requirements of the job. Within five years of being hired they must complete an associate’s degree or receive 60 college credits.
But the applicants go through a demanding series of screenings beginning with a written test, along with a series of interviews, background checks, physical tests and a psychiatric evaluation.
“I’m going to estimate that from that 240, for the final eligibility list that would be brought forward to the police and fire commission to certify, my guess would be 30,” Stanczek said.
Of those estimated 30 people who met all qualifications, the department hired nine people. Once hired, the new officers then go through an 18-week police academy followed by four months during which they ride along with an experienced officer.
Stanczak said the department currently has 12 vacancies.
At the same time that the number of people applying is in decline, the department is working to improve the diversity of its officer ranks. Police Chief Dan Miskinis, who is retiring in April, put out a public call for applicants, asking for more people of color to apply.
“Like many departments across this nation, we desire to reflect the demographics of the community we serve. That desire is difficult to meet given the traditional applicant pool. We do not receive large numbers of applications from within the Black, Hispanic or Asian communities,” Miskinis wrote. “We hope that the recent attention to police-community relations encourages people to apply and increase our number of applicants and the number of those from under-represented communities.”
According to data from the department, of the 57 officers hired in the last five years, 11 — or 19 percent — were women, five were Black and eight Hispanic. Miskinis said that while the demographics of the department do not match those of the community “we have made strides and hope to continue to do so.”
Miskinis said that the department is doing outreach trying to reach more people of color and women, but said it is a challenge because other departments are also competing for the same candidates. “We have to try to drive up the actual number so we can so we can be more reflective,” he said.
He said he doesn’t think people necessarily need to be coming from criminal justice college programs to make good police officers.
“I think (the most important characteristic) first and foremost is character. You have to have the ability to solve problems and communicate,” he said, saying police are often working in chaotic situations. “Having a degree does not necessarily give you the coping skills and problem solving skills you need. You could come from the service industry and possess the skills to be a good police officer.”