Lack of qualified applicants noted by police chief
BY KEVIN BONESKE
Given the trend in the number of applicants and those qualified to be hired as a new Rhinelander Police Department officer, police chief Lloyd Gauthier discussed at Tuesday’s city Finance, Wage and Salary Committee the possibility of sponsoring new hires to attend the law enforcement academy held at Nicolet College.
“With the changing tide of law enforcement, in general, throughout our country – probably some attributes to Act 10 – the quality candidates we receive nowadays are far and few between,” Gauthier said.
When the city went through a hiring process for a new officer in August, Gauthier said there were 18 applicants, compared to years ago when there likely would have been three to four times more applicants.
Of those 18 applicants, Gauthier said only two were found to be “teachable, moldable to the point where they can be a productive, well-fit member of the Rhinelander Police Department” for consideration as an officer by the city’s Police and Fire Commission. He noted the applicant with 10 years of experience as a police officer in Racine, Nick Seeger, was hired to be an officer in Rhinelander.
Gauthier said Rhinelander presently doesn’t have an eligibility list to hire an officer to fill a vacancy, which would make it necessary to start the hiring process all over.
“We need to look at what we can do to enhance the quality of candidates, because the city of Rhinelander spends a lot of money on public safety,” he said. “There’s a lot of money involved in the hiring process of getting a well-qualified person.”
Gauthier said the pay scale for officers in Rhinelander makes the city’s police department “one of the most attractive-paid departments in northern Wisconsin.”
“We offer lateral transfers, so maybe we haven’t done a good enough job getting the word out about the process of what we’ve got to offer in this great community that we work for,” he said.
After the city missed out on a “really good applicant” because that person hadn’t attended a law enforcement academy, Gauthier said that got him thinking about how it could be possible to hire people in the community “that live here, want to stay here, won’t leave here that would make excellent members of the Rhinelander Police Department…”
Gauthier said there is a program available through the state where it would be possible to sponsor a new hire through the law enforcement academy at Nicolet College, where upon successful completion of the 720 hours of training the state would pay for the tuition, resulting in no cost to the city. However, he noted that a contract could be drawn up so that if the person attending the academy would fail, he or she would be obligated to pay the $5,000.
“To get an applicant through that (program) and sponsored, they have to be hired by a law enforcement agency,” he said. “I’m looking into the possibility of looking more deeply into this. I’m not necessarily looking for approval to do it, but maybe approval to continue looking into it.”
Gauthier said he wouldn’t favor sending someone to a law enforcement academy out of the Rhinelander area, given the cost for doing so with housing, etc.
“We have a beautiful academy right here in Rhinelander that we can send them to,” he said. “But the other kicker is we’d have to hire that employee.”
If a new officer would be hired the first of the year, Gauthier said that officer would go through the city’s field training program with no experience and then be sent to the law enforcement academy when it would begin in May for 720 hours of training.
“The down side to this is they’re on my payroll, but they’re not working the streets for 720 hours,” he said. “But at the end of it, you’d have a certifiable officer who would be with the department.”
Gauthier said the hiring process that would include a new officer attending the law enforcement academy is something that he wouldn’t expect to be used a lot, but it could be available as an “ace in the hole.”
He said a new officer hired would have a year from the date of hire to attend a law enforcement academy.
Committee members took no action on Gauthier’s proposal, but agreed he could continue looking into the matter.