APPLETON (NBC 26) — A new survey shows many people in Wisconsin have strong support for law enforcement, but simultaneously feel respect for police has dropped.
According to a poll released by the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, 77% of those surveyed approve of the way their local police force is handling its job, while 73% of respondents agree that respect for law enforcement has gone down from a year ago.
"I think we are approaching kind of a crisis point, in terms of there are just fewer and fewer people entering the profession," said Jim Palmer, WPPA executive director.
Palmer said there's likely a correlation between that decrease in recruits and public perception.
"The number of officers is at its lowest point in more than a decade," Palmer said. "Those who are in the profession are either leaving entirely or they're retiring as early as the law will allow them to retire, because they just don't want to do the job anymore."
Palmer said physical assaults on Wisconsin law enforcement may also be a contributing factor to the lower number of applicants. He said assaults on Wisconsin police has gone up 42% in the past four years.
"It's either too dangerous, or not worth the stress or the scrutiny," Palmer said. "So I think it is a significant challenge facing not only Wisconsin, but the rest of the country.”
Lt. Meghan Cash, Appleton Police Department, said while they generally feel positive support from the community, the number of people applying for jobs at the department is down substantially.
"In 2012, for instance, we had up to 500 applicants for maybe one or two positions that were opening," Cash said. "Now we're seeing maybe 70, 60, 50 applicants for potentially multiple positions opening."
Cash agreed current perception of law enforcement may be playing a part in the lower number of applicants.
"It affects us locally, because we want people invested in our community here in Appleton, that want to police in Appleton and be apart of this community," Cash said. "So it's about finding that best candidate. It's not just about finding someone to fill a job."
To attract more applicants, Cash said they're expanding outreach efforts to reach more people we may not always see in law enforcement. For example, she said the department recently held an event to recruit more women into the field.
"We're always looking for an opportunity to maybe hit a population we haven't maybe focused on before, how can we increase the awareness that this job exists and that there are a lot less barriers than people think to becoming a law enforcement officer," Cash said.
Palmer said expanded outreach is a great way for local departments to gain more recruits. He said law enforcement can also increase social media use to grab the attention of young people.