Victoria Dawson wanted to be a police officer since seventh grade.
She got her degree in criminology from UW-Whitewater in 2017.
Now, she’s been hired by Janesville. Like many departments, Janesville will pay her wages as she goes through the 17 weeks of police academy at Blackhawk Technical College and pay her $5,000 tuition, too.
Starting wages locally range from the low $40,000s to mid $50,000s.
Benefits are not bad when compared to some other jobs, although they’re not as good as they were before Wisconsin’s 2011 law known as Act 10 cut into them, and raises are not what they used to be, said Chief Deputy Barb Tillman of the Rock County Sheriff’s Office.
Still, the numbers of applicants for local police jobs in recent years reflect the national trend: They’re down by a lot.
New Rock County Sheriff Troy Knudson faced a wave of retirements as he took office in January. He recently told WCLO Radio that the first time the sheriff’s office posted for new recruits, it got eight or nine applicants.
In the past, having 100 to 200 applicants was common, Knudson said.
Elkhorn Police Chief Joel Christensen remembers 125 applicants in 2014-15. A recent posting netted his department 52 applicants.
Similar stories were heard from most chiefs interviewed.
“The smaller numbers don’t concern me terribly because we want just a few of the very best, and most of those who applied wouldn’t have made the cut anyway,” said Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore. “We continue to get good quality people.”
Officials said it’s hard to know what is going on in the heads of young people who don’t apply, but they’ve heard one of the biggest impediments is that they’re now recruiting from the millennial generation.
Millennials are more interested in quality of life than past generations, it is said, and that can make police work seem less attractive.
Weekend shifts are common, and nearly all young recruits spend years working nights before they get enough seniority to qualify for the day shift.
“Millennials appear to have returned to traditional family values, and thus, cherish time away from work,” according to Police Chief Magazine.
Mark Brown, a retired Madison police officer and program administrator for Blackhawk Tech’s police academy, said he has heard from police chiefs and sheriffs that recruits don’t want to work holidays or weekends.
The problem can lead to recruits leaving the profession, which sharpens the competition as law enforcement agencies scramble to fill vacancies, Brown said.
“We’re not only competing for candidates with other police agencies, we’re also competing with the private sector, which sometimes has the ability to offer a higher wage and more competitive schedule,” Tillman said.
“If they’re expecting a Monday-through-Friday job, they’re in the wrong profession,” Moore said, acknowledging that police schedules are tough on families and the officers.
Beloit Police Chief David Zibolski said his department has a solution: 10-hour shifts.
Beloit devised a system of five overlapping shifts. Officers still work 40-hour weeks, but they get every other weekend off, Zibolski said.
They also assigned more cops for times when the volume of calls is highest. That greatly reduced the need to call in officers during crises, Zibolski said.
The schedule reduced the need for overtime for officers to train together. In the first nine months, Beloit saved more than $400,000 on overtime, Zibolski said.
Zibolski said he also instituted a new culture for officers since he took over the chief job four years ago. The focus is on their role as guardians.
New recruits like the schedule and other changes so much that they tell their friends to apply to Beloit, Zibolski said.
The result has been easier recruitment, including of blacks and other minorities, he said.
Recruiting minority officers has been a challenge for many local agencies.
Earlier generations were more interested in maximizing pay, so they set up work schedules that would produce overtime, Zibolski said.
Zibolski gives a lot of credit to the officers’ union for agreeing to the schedule change and for a change in the last contract to front-load the salary schedule so young officers see pay hikes early. More traditional schedules emphasized pay hikes at year 20 or 25, he said.
Officers make about $52,000 right out of the academy, Zibolski said.
Well-publicized incidents around the country, such as the shooting of a black man in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, often are pointed to as the reason fewer go into police work.
There’s something to that, said sociologist Charles Westerberg of Beloit College.
Westerberg has been teaching criminology for 20 years, and he has never seen negative attitudes toward police like those held by today’s students.
He tries to give an evenhanded presentation on police, but students don’t want to hear it, Westerberg said.
“They have it in their minds the police exist to marginalize people, to use their power in racist and classist sorts of ways,” he said.
Students know of the controversial police shootings and point to statistics showing police detain people of color and poor people well out of proportion to their numbers in the population, Westerberg said.
“And they’re not wrong. There is an imbalance,” he said. “But they don’t acknowledge the number of (police-citizen interactions) that don’t end in one of these negative encounters.”
Westerberg said a lot of older studies found one of the chief reasons people became police officers in past is they believed they would be respected, important members of society.
“That’s what’s come under sort of attack with a lot of these high-profile cases,” he said.
Beloit College sociology students are not a good representation of the population, however.
Whitewater Police Chief Aaron Raap, a veteran of the Milwaukee Police Department, said if he could change one thing to improve recruiting, it would be the way news media cover the high-profile cases.
The incidents are reported incompletely in the beginning. Officers are vilified, as Raap sees it, and there’s no waiting until all the facts are known.
“We have bad apples like every other walk of life, but painting everybody with the broad brush of being a bad cop is just wrong,” Raap said.
“There are so many rewarding experiences officers encounter every day, in big cities and small cities alike,” he said.
Police work always has been dangerous and stressful, leading to high turnover, Westerberg said.
That point was driven home during a recent active-shooter training for the Blackhawk Tech academy students. Janesville police Sgt. Rob Perkins was critiquing students’ efforts to find a shooter in the rooms and corridors of the Mercyhealth training center in Janesville.
Perkins noted students who hesitated when they came under fire from guns that fired plastic pellets. But, of course, they were training for the day they might face real gunfire.
The correct tactic is to push forward, Perkins said.
“We may take rounds. It’s a pill we’re going to have to take,” he told them.
“You do what you’ve got to do. Risk a lot to save a lot,” said BTC student Ashley Janes, when asked about the possibility she might have to take a life someday.
Janes, of Janesville, is a Walworth County Sheriff’s Office recruit.
“They see what they see on TV and think that it’s all glamour and glitz, and in reality, like I tell these academy students, an eight-hour shift can be seven hours and 59 minutes of sheer boredom and one minute of sheer excitement,” Brown said. “It’s not what you see on TV. It’s a lot of dealing with people and being a mediator and a social worker.”
But Brown said he talks to high school students about policing. He asks them, “How many of your parents will retire at age 50 with a full pension, and how many employers will pay tuition so they can complete a bachelor’s degree?”
Recruit Dawson said she stopped talking to people about her career goal because of negative feedback.
Mostly, it was about being a woman in a male-dominated profession. People would tell her they couldn’t see her doing that, she said.
That was one of the reasons she didn’t apply for police jobs right out of college. Doubts crept in. But she still felt the calling.
“It was still something I wanted to do, so I pursued it—hard-headed,” she said.
“Nothing else was fun, so this is fun, and I like it, and I can definitely do this.”
Tensions are rising, fingers are pointing, and the search for solutions is increasingly fraught.
Overwhelmed by an influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border that is taxing the immigration system, President Donald Trump is grasping for something—anything—to stem the tide.
Trump, who campaigned on a promise to secure the border, has thrown virtually every option his aides have been able to think of at the problem, to little avail. He has sent out the military, signed an emergency declaration to fund a border wall and threatened to completely seal the southern border. On Thursday he added a new threat, warning of hefty tariffs on cars made in Mexico if the country doesn’t abide by his demands.
Now, with the encouragement of an influential aide and with his re-election campaign on the horizon, Trump is looking at personnel changes as he tries to shift blame elsewhere.
The first move was made Thursday, when the White House unexpectedly pulled back the nomination of Ron Vitiello to permanently lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, where he had been acting director. The abrupt reversal was encouraged by top Trump policy adviser Stephen Miller and seen by some as part of a larger effort to bring on aides who share Miller’s hard-line immigration views.
“We may go a different way. We may have to go a very tough way,” Trump said in an interview with “Fox & Friends Weekend” that aired Saturday.
An empowered Miller is also eyeing the removal of Lee Francis Cissna, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which runs the legal immigration system, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal staffing matters. The White House did not respond to questions Friday about whether Trump was on board with that plan.
Trump has become increasingly exasperated at his inability to do more to halt the swelling numbers of migrants entering the country. Aides, too, have complained they are stymied by regulatory guardrails, legal limitations and a Congress that has scoffed at the president’s requests for legislative changes.
“There is indeed an emergency on our southern border,” Trump said Friday during a visit to the southern border in Calexico, California, where his frustration was evident. “It’s a colossal surge and it’s overwhelming our immigration system, and we can’t let that happen. So, as I say, and this is our new statement: The system is full. Can’t take you anymore.”
Immigration experts say Trump’s own immigration policies have caused so much chaos along the border that they could be encouraging illegal crossings. The furor over family separations last summer helped to highlight the fact that families won’t be detained for long in the U.S. if they’re detained at all. And metering, in which people are asked to return to a busy port of entry on another day to seek asylum, might encourage asylum-seekers to cross illegally, said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.
“This policy chaos, coupled with a sense that the U.S. government may at some point really shut down the border, has generated an urgency to migrate now while it is still possible,” he said.
Whatever the reasons for the migrant surge, there is a growing consensus that federal border resources are overwhelmed. While illegal border crossings are still down sharply from their peak in 2000, they have nonetheless reached a 12-year high. While most illegal border-crossers used to be single Mexican nationals coming to the U.S. in search of work, more than half are now parents and children who have traveled from Central America to seek refuge in the U.S.
Those families, along with unaccompanied children, are subject to specific laws and court settlements that prevent them from being immediately sent back to their home countries. Immigrant processing and holding centers have been overwhelmed, forcing officials to dramatically expand a practice Trump has long mocked as “catch and release.”
Indeed, ICE has set free more than 125,000 people who came into the U.S. as families since late last year and is now busing people hundreds of miles inland, releasing them at Greyhound stations and churches in cities like Albuquerque, New Mexico; San Antonio; and Phoenix because towns close to the border already have more than they can handle.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also has voiced increasing exasperation, equating the situation to the aftermath of a Category 5 hurricane.
“We have tried everything that we can at DHS,” she said Thursday on CNN. “We are out of the ability to manage this flow and they need help.”
She recently called on Congress to consider changes to the immigration system. But those efforts have landed with a thud.
House Democrats would almost certainly reject any plans to simply deport unaccompanied minors or otherwise rewrite the law governing asylum or family detentions that they see as protecting young migrants who are often fleeing difficult conditions. In the Senate, where Republicans have the majority, there’s little interest in big legislative proposals this year, especially on a divisive issue like immigration. Trump’s ideas could be especially tough for senators facing re-election in 2020 in Colorado, Arizona and North Carolina, swing states with sizable Latino and immigrant populations.
In the meantime, tensions between agencies and at the White House have been bubbling up. At Homeland Security, officials have expressed frustration with colleagues at the Health and Human Services Department and at the Pentagon, accusing them of doing too little to help. And there are complaints about the White House and what some see as an effort by Miller to dismantle the leadership of the department, in part to shift the blame away from the White House.
The sea of cheerful blue pinwheels in Lower Courthouse Park has a sobering purpose.
Each of those 3,000 pinwheels represents a call to Rock County Social Services reporting suspected child abuse and the possibility that a childhood has gone terribly wrong.
On Saturday, CASA of Rock County held Pinwheels for Prevention, an event designed to raise public awareness of child abuse and neglect and to engage the community in prevention and support programs. Saturday’s event was one of many held nationwide.
CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. CASA volunteers are appointed by judges and watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children. Each volunteer focuses on one child and tries to be a consistent presence in the child’s life.
The day also served as a celebration of CASA volunteers and foster parents, people who form a critical fiber of the social safety net.
Out of the 3,000 calls to child protective services, about 1,800 of those are “screened in” for investigation, CASA program director Sandy Johnson said.
Of those, about 147 end up in the court system, Johnson said.
“I call them the children in the shadows, the children behind the scenes,” Johnson said.
She wants that sea of blue pinwheels to remind people that it does happen here and that their help is needed.
The need for CASA volunteers and foster parents has grown quickly in the last few years, Johnson said. Consider:
The opioid/heroin epidemic has contributed to the number of children needing services, Johnson said.
In an email to the Gazette, Johnson outlined some of the other issues facing Rock County youth, including an inadequate number of foster homes, which results in children being placed in homes outside the county or sibling groups being divided up; high caseloads for social workers in Child Protective Services; a heavy caseload in the court system; waiting lists for addiction and mental health services; and affordable housing.
Becoming a CASA volunteer requires about six to eight volunteer hours every month, Johnson said.
Kim Hubanks has been serving as one of those volunteers. For her, the effort is worth it when a child says, “This is my CASA volunteer and we do a lot of fun things together.”
She’s planning to pursue a career in human services. So why this volunteer job? And this profession?
Helping kids in need has to start somewhere and with someone, Hubanks said.
And she figured that person was her.
Cynthia “Cyndy” Adams
Gerald L. “Jerry” Boettcher
Vickie L. Christensen
Charles A. Costello
Larry L. Dangerfield
Basil J. Dewey
Donald R. Frank
William “Bill” Kerr
Montrel T. “Ty” Kilgore
Anita L. Lundberg
Michael J. “Marty” Martin
Kathryn L. “Katie” Roberts
Evelyn V. Sheridan
Dale Sylvan Sperry, Jr.