Mayor Steve Genisot
Mayor Steve Genisot

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MARINETTE — The increasing demands, evolving job requirements, stressful situations and the constant loom of the unknown, makes enforcing the law, maintaining safety and patrolling the community a perpetual struggle for police departments across the country. That struggle becomes especially poignant when paired with the growing issues and difficulties of recruitment of new officers and the retention those already on the force. For department heads, especially in small towns and cities with limited resources, finding qualified candidates grows continually more demanding. 

However, at the City of Marinette Police Department (MPD), officials recently implemented an amendment to the labor contract between the city and the Marinette Police Officer’s Association in an effort to help advance the recruitment of qualified individuals capable and willing to deal with the evolution of policing in the 21st century. 

Police departments in large and small communities across the country continue to see a decline in applicants while more experienced officers often leave the profession after only a few years of service, according to a 2019 report by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).  PERF conducts research and and provides policy advising, management services, technical assistance, and education that for law enforcement agencies.

In Marinette, Mayor Steve Genisot and Police Chief John Mabry, recognize and seek ways to address some of those same issues.

One way begins with the amendment to the labor contract. Approved by the Marinette City Council, the agreement authorizes the creation of a Recruit Officer position. It allows individuals who plan to attend – or are attending – the police academy to operate as “sworn law enforcement officers” in Marinette. As uncertified officers, a recruit officer would earn only 80 % of the wage that certified officers earn. Recruit officers would also receive funding for their schooling at the academy. 

“We brought this amendment to council the last few years because our department and many departments throughout the United States are challenged to find recruits,” Genisot said. “Law enforcement is a tough job to be in, it has a lot of scrutiny; it is a very challenging and dangerous job.” 

According to PERF, one reason for the struggle to attract and retain officers derives from the changing demands of the work. New types of cyber-crime, more frequent calls to address social problems like untreated mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness, all represent issues that continue to increase the challenges and scope of the work for which officers must prepare. That evolution in policing often requires additional knowledge, skills and temperaments.

According to Genisot, Marinette faces two big challenges when it comes to recruitment of new officers: less candidates and competition with surrounding communities for available candidates. He underscored the decreasing pool of candidates applying for department positions as one of the biggest challenges facing MPD. He explained that in the past, a large pool of 20 to 30 candidates vying for the same officer position provided the department with plentiful options when it came to qualified individuals.

“That number of applicants is far less now,” Genisot said. “It could be a half or a quarter of that in many cases.”  

Compounding the small pool of candidates, the City of Marinette, Marinette County and other surrounding communities constantly compete with each other for qualified recruits. Larger municipalities, like Green Bay, possess more resources and can frequently offer new recruits higher pay and training opportunities, which tend to strain the budgets of smaller cities like Marinette. 

“Many of Marinette’s surrounding communities have needed to increase pay to attract new officers,” Genisot said. “So (in Marinette) we are always trying to keep up with other communities so we don’t lose Marinette officers after we have them trained.”

The amendment allows Mabry to begin recruiting individuals not already certified as officers to fill positions on the force. 

In addition to helping the MPD with recruitment, Mabry explained the amendment also provides a means for those individuals lacking the time or financial resources to attend the training to become police officers. Mabry and Genisot both agreed that for some individuals who want, and seek, to become police officers, the cost of schooling and the demands of life, current careers and family can sometimes hinder opportunity to pursue necessary education and training. 

Before implementation of the amendment, requirements stipulated that a candidate applying for a police officer position on the MPD needed to complete schooling and the academy before they were eligible. 

By eliminating that requirement, the Mabry said it opens the opportunity to enlist and retain high caliber individuals on the force. He also said that it provides a person seeking to become an officer another avenue to reach that goal. 

“This is good for the city and this is good for the department,” Mabry added.

In further detail, the agreement also stipulates that should the recruit officer leave the employment of the MPD within 36 months of completing the academy, he or she agrees to repay a portion of the wages and other expenses for training, background checks, equipment and other officer amenities paid above the minimum wage. The amount of the repayment depends on the length of time the officer spends in the employment of the MPD.

Finally, other research by the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit worldwide group that provides policy and decision-making support through research and analysis, added support to the fact that the biggest challenges facing law enforcement agencies stem from recruitment and retention. Local police departments struggle with attrition rates due to limited resources and budgets.

However, the City of Marinette also continues to endeavor on those fronts as well. Genisot emphasized that when it comes to providing MPD officers with the right equipment and resources to perform their job successfully, efficiently and safely, MPD and the city have demonstrated a lot of success. 

“We have been pretty supportive in trying to get them the things that they need to do the job,” he said. 

One example of that support involves the shared city-county use of a refurbished armored rescue vehicle. The vehicle’s recent acquisition by the Marinette County at the cost of $180,000, paid for and owned entirely by Marinette County, falls under a memorandum of agreement (MOR), stating that the vehicle will be shared with the City of Marinette. 

Specified in the MOR the vehicle will be stored at Law Enforcement Center, allowing for the immediate deployment at all times by either entity, the Marinette County Sheriff’s Department or the MPD, when such emergency situations arise.