EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- In the City of Eau Claire, there are 100 sworn police officers at any given time. But according to Eau Claire Police Deputy Chief Derek Thomas, the number of applications for new officers has declined dramatically.
“We want to have the best of the best among this police department that works for this community and we won't settle for anything less,” Thomas said.
Declining numbers mixed with national scrutiny have made recruiting new officers difficult. WEAU got an exclusive look at how ECPD is trying to engage more people into becoming police officers.
“Nationwide, it's tough recruiting times right now. the numbers are down nationally, not just in Eau Claire, not within the Chippewa Valley, but nationally,” Thomas said.
In an effort to peak public interest, the Eau Claire Police Department allowed WEAU an inside look at what it takes to become an officer.
“The way this first starts out is we do our recruiting. We will accept any application, anyone who is interested in being a police officer, as long as they meet our minimum requirements,” Thomas said. “They have to be a high school graduate, a minimum of 60 post high school credits, they have to have a valid drivers license and no felony on record.”
Potential new recruits for the Eau Claire Police Department have to pass numerous physical tests; one of those is 23 push-ups in one minute.
“If they pass the written and the physical agility test, they then move onto the police and fire commission interviews. If they pass that assessment, they go in front of chief of staff,” Thomas said Depending on where they fall in the rankings of our chief staff interviews, they might get a background investigation. If they pass our background investigation, if they meet the standards we expect here within the department, they are offered a job.”
Thomas said you do not necessarily have to have a background in law enforcement in order to become a police officer. ECPD will put people through the police academy if necessary.
Once a recruit graduates from the academy, however, their training does not stop, according to new officer Rogelio Gonzales
“I went to Chippewa Valley Technical College and they kind of just built the fundamentals of being a police officer,” Gonzales said. “Being an officer with the City of Eau Claire, I've gotten the experience of more realistic and hands on.”
One of the first things new officers go through is a period called transition training, which instructor Sgt, Mark Pieper said tests a new officer's skills with a firearm.
“When officers come in from either another agency, in this case we have an officer from Iowa and one that came from the recruit academy here in Eau Claire,” Pieper said. “When they start, we just want to see where their firearm skills are at.”
That hands-on experience is what Pieper calls, "unified tactics."
“We are trying to build from the ground up with their firearm proficiency, as well as all the other things in our unified tactics program; which not only includes firearms, but emergency vehicle operations, force options training, defense and arrest tactics and vehicle contacts.”
Gonzales said firearms training was one of the hardest parts of becoming an officer.
“I come from a household where firearms have never been used,” Gonzales said. “During transitions it was new to me. Being in a squad car, being in uniform is all new to me.”
Pieper said the training officers go through throughout their entire career is ever-changing
“Nothing that we deal with in the real world is static and nothing follows a script. We want to present problems where they have to think tactically and on their feet during a real-life incident.”
Gonzales said although it has been a long training process, he is happy he became a police officer.
“I find myself after my work week wanting to keep working, coming back to work,” He said. “It may be that I'm learning so much and wanting to keep learning and I'm so eager to learn all of it.”
Although times may be hard for recruiting, Thomas said they will only accept the top-tier recruits for the Eau Claire Police Department.
“This is all for the greater good of this community,” Thomas said. “We won't lower our standards for anyone or anything.”
For more information about ECPD, click here.