Colleges do their part to help alleviate police staffing shortages

As state lawmakers debate ways to address a shortage of police officers, local colleges are taking action to find their own ways to help.
Updated: Feb. 8, 2022 at 6:00 PM CST
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OUTAGAMIE COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - As state lawmakers debate ways to address a shortage of police officers, local colleges are taking action to find their own ways to help.

Recruiting new officers is a problem we’ve been telling you about for months, with the number of officers at its lowest level in a decade.

In January, GOP lawmakers announced a $25 million dollar package, funded through federal coronavirus relief money, to recruit and retain more police officers.

While action at the state level could still take time, local colleges are doing their part to address staffing problems with each new class in the police academy.

At Fox Valley Technical College, we watched students receive hands-on training, walking through scenarios at the school’s Public Safety Training Center.

Ryan Schlosser is one of the students attending the police academy at FVTC.

“Initially I wanted to go into finance or IT in high school. I kind of figured out about my senior year of high school... I joined the Explorers Program, then became an auxiliary officer, so through that I did ride-alongs and lots of other stuff that got me to know, hey, this is really want I want to do,” says Schlosser, when asked why he wants to begin a law enforcement career.

He is among a rapidly rising number of students coming into the police academy, determined that serving the community is what they’ve been called to do.

“It’s changed quite a bit. There’s not as much interest as there has been in the past, but the people that are interested in law enforcement now are extremely dedicated. They’re driven to do this job,” says Tim Hufschmid, Fox Valley Technical College Police Academy Director and instructor.

Hufschmid says it’s extremely competitive with wait lists to get in.

Given the demand, FVTC actually just expanded its class size to 32, but that puts the school at max capacity.

The college has already begun talking with local police agencies, asking what else it can to do help alleviate staffing shortages.

“The technical college system, and Fox Valley Tech for sure, have a role in that,” says Cory McKone, Fox Valley Technical College Associate Dean of Public Safety. “It starts at the beginning with recruitment, working with admissions teams to go out to the middle schools and high schools and get them interested in our programs.”

But once there, students can face a big financial hurdle. The police academy is a full-time job in itself. Recruits spend all day training, making it hard to have a full-time job on top of it to help cover costs.

Students either pay their own $5,000 to attend the academy or get hired on by departments first. The department can then sponsor them, paying for the academy and a recruit’s wages for attending, but it all adds up.

“When I first started as academy director, we had maybe a quarter of the class sponsored by agencies and three-quarters were sponsored by themselves. Now it’s the reverse, where three-quarters of the class are sponsored by agencies and a quarter are sponsoring themselves,” says Hufschmid.

Part of the GOP’s proposed legislation could reimburse some of these costs, in hopes more would consider the profession.

But the most important part of the entire process does not change.

“What I like is that agencies are not dropping the standards of the candidate they’re going to have working for them. They’re steadfast on that, and that’s nice to see,” says Hufschmid.

And Ryan Schlosser is ready to be part of that.

“(It’s) a great area to work in, great community, and why I want to be in law enforcement is really to help people at the end of the day,” he adds.

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