Working with Act 10

The Washington County Daily News has an interesting story on the front page today. The story is about how the Jackson Police Department is modifying its recruitment requirements to make it easier to get recruits. The department is having a hard time recruiting candidates and the story says that it is a statewide problem.

In the aggregate, this makes sense. With 3-something percent unemployment in Wisconsin, everyone is having a hard time finding workers. And when it comes to law enforcement, the current legal and cultural climate would make some people shy away from law enforcement. It is a job where you can do everything right for 20 years, but one questionable decision in a high pressure situation can ruin your life. Not to mention the fact that it is a job that requires 24/7 hard work. It is an honorable job, but it is not an easy one.

In any case, the Jackson Police Chief said this:

“This is a statewide problem,” Dolnick said. “Some departments have gotten so desperate that they’re offering lateral benefits to ‘cannibalize’ officers from other agencies. Act 10 reduced benefits, making it harder to compete with jobs in which you’re not required to work holidays, overnight, and weekends, in potentially dangerous situations.”

Dolnick’s attempt to blame Act 10 is off base. It absolutely did not reduce benefits. In fact, it gave local governments much more power over those benefits to increase them or decrease them. If the Village of Jackson has reduced benefits, that’s on them. What Act 10 did do is make it easier for public employees to make lateral moves to other cities. Perhaps this is what Dolnick meant.

In fact, later in the story, another law enforcement leader has a different perspective on Act 10.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is working to hire new deputies and has the option of hiring non-certified candidates and sponsoring them through the Basic Law Enforcement Training, which lasts 720 hours. This is a similar offering to what Dolnick requested last month.

Sheriff Dale Schmidt said, “We’ve continuously had applications for all those positions (deputies, corrections officers and dispatch offers), but we have to be much more careful with the positions, making sure they’re meeting the standards we’re looking for.”

In an effort to remain competitive, Schmidt has worked with the Washington County Board of Supervisors to keep pay and benefits competitive.

“I think they’ve been responsive to that,” Schmidt said. He added that the department has also seen an increase in the hiring of experienced applicants from other agencies in the past few years.

Apparently the Washington County government is using its increased authority under Act 10 to keep pay and benefits competitive, thus disproving the assertion that “Act 10 reduced benefits.” Clearly it did not.

Also note that Sheriff Schmidt noted an increase in applicants from other agencies. This is something that Act 10 intentionally made easier. The fact that there is more of a marketplace for public employees to move to other employers without completely abandoning their seniority and benefits is a good thing – not a bad thing.