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Green Bay alder suggests rewarding, recruiting unvaccinated police officers

While the Green Bay Police Department cites recruitment problems, officials look to fill service gaps

By John McCracken

A 2018 swearing-in ceremony for the Green Bay Police Department. Currently, the department has 171 deployable officers and nine vacant positions. Photo courtesy of the city of Green Bay

The Green Bay Police Department (GBPD) has nine vacant positions for sworn police officers. To fix this shortfall, District 8 alderperson Chris Wery is asking the city of Green Bay to recruit unvaccinated police officers from other cities across the country who have instituted vaccine mandates.

In an email sent to GBPD Police Chief Chris Davis and Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich, Wery said his inspiration for the request came from recent reports coming from the Sunshine State.

“I am hearing that Florida is offering a $5,000 sign on bonus to officers that are leaving cities that have a vaccine mandate,” Wery said in an Oct. 25 email. “Since we have 10 open positions and ‘having issues’ hiring, I suggest we try the same thing.”

Earlier this week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he is working on a plan to recruit officers from across the country with a $5,000 incentive.

Wery told Green Bay City Pages that the request to specifically recruit unvaccinated officers would help solve some of the recurring public safety issues the city is experiencing.

“We are short officers and are having trouble recruiting them,” Wery said. “Some cities are choosing to say goodbye to some great officers.  Why not recruit from them, especially when we are seeing an increase in shootings and traffic issues?”

When asked by Green Bay City Pages if he believes it’s a good idea to have unvaccinated frontline responders—especially given that these positions are in frequent and close contact with the public-—Wery said the Center for Disease Control (CDC) admits that vaccinated people spread the COVID-19 virus at a rate equal to or greater than unvaccinated people.

“What purpose is there to require a vaccination,” Wery said. “None. The (COVID-19) vaccine is a personal health choice.”

According to the CDC, vaccinated people can still catch and spread the COVID-19 virus. However, infections have only happened in a small proportion of fully vaccinated people and infections are mild. In comparison, a June 24 analysis from The Associated Press found that the majority of COVID-19 deaths in the United States are from unvaccinated people.

The leading cause for police officer line of duty deaths so far in 2021 and 2020 was COVID-19, according to the online database Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP). There were 248 officers who died from the virus in 2020 and 249 who have died so far this year.

Wisconsin has had two lines of duty deaths since 2020. Both were caused by officers contracting COVID-19 while on duty. Dane County Deputy Sheriff Richard Charles Treadwell, 61, died in August of 2020 after contracting the virus. Fond du Lac Police Officer Joseph J. Kurer, 26, died in September of this year.

Police recruitment

Wery said he hopes funding for a recruitment program could come from the federal dollars the city of Green Bay is preparing to receive.

Green Bay is currently discussing how to spend roughly $24 million in American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds. The federal government released $350 billion to eligible state, local, territorial and tribal governments to aid in the response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

ARPA dollars do have strings attached. Eligible projects must focus on improving Low-to-Moderate (LMI) income census tracts within Green Bay as well as initiatives that help small businesses and industries hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic in LMI census tracts. The funds can also be used for infrastructure, housing, improved city services and other areas directly affected by the pandemic.

Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich revealed his outline for spending the funds in a series of recent Oct. 21 and 26 town hall meetings where members of the public could attend and voice their priorities for ARPDA dollars. (Residents can still submit their ideas online.)

Genrich said his proposal would include $10 million for roads and bridges improvement, $6 million for affordable housing initiatives and small business relief, $3 million for stormwater updates and climate resilience projects, $2 million for crime prevention and $1 for arts and tourism.

ARPA funds and the city budget are separate funding entities.

The 2022 city budget proposed by Genrich does not outline expenses for hiring more public safety officers. The 2022 proposed budget sets aside over $28 million for the GBPD, which is 24.5% of the budget—the largest amount a city department receives, and a 1.6% increase from the previous year.

In 2021, Genrich increased the amount of fully funded GBPD officers from 185 to 187 as part of the previous year’s budget. The GBPD budget has been the largest portion of the city’s budget since 2011 (according to the most recent, available archived city budget data). Since 2011, the average GBPD year-over-year budget change has been an increase of 1.6%.

GBPD Chief Davis said the problem is not funding for positions. It is filling the boots of the positions that Green Bay already has.

Currently, the GBPD has a total of 187 positions. Davis said there are nine vacancies, but the remaining amount of officers aren’t all fully deployable. He said three officers are still in-field training and four are still in the police academy.

“We have 171 deployable police officers, “ Davis said.

Davis said the staffing issue is twofold. The first part is related to the ongoing, national labor shortage caused by the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The second part is aversion from potential officers to join the force due to national, high-profile police killings and demands for police accountability in recent years.

“As much as we need to have that difficult conversation,” Davis said, “ think that has also kind of turned some people off to a career in policing.”

Davis said he didn’t know how exactly the 171 number compares to previous years and service levels for the GBPD, but he sees the current number as “low” as officers are stretched between demands for increased traffic enforcement, prolonged and increased reporting and demand for de-escalation efforts.

“It’s not just a matter of are you doing the same job with a similar number of people to what you’ve always had,” Davis said. “It’s our officers have gotten a lot busier.”

Davis said it can take upwards of 18 months to fully train a new officer.

John McCracken is the Editor of Green Bay City Pages. He can be reached via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @jmcjmc451.

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