Crime cracking aside, one of the biggest challenges facing Chief Brad Wentlandt on a regular basis is ensuring the department's budget and staffing needs are balanced.
He must take into account the economic realities that the city and department faces, without compromising a certain level of service residents expect and need.
Taking both into account, Wentlandt introduced the program to the department during the 2012 budget process.
A CSO is a part-time paid position but the officers are neither sworn in nor armed. They must be 18 years of age with a valid driver’s license and enrolled in some college program, preferably related to law enforcement.
CSOs are generally scheduled during the daytime and though their responsibilities do not include making arrests or traffic stops, they can issue parking citations. Other CSO responsibilities include:
- animal complaints (loose dogs etc.);
- disabled vehicles/assist motorists;
- vehicle lock outs;
- traffic control (assisting officers at crash or other scenes);
- found property complaints;
- provide equipment and assistance to officers on a scene;
- vehicle checks;
- crossing guard duties as needed;
- vacation home checks;
- traffic signal malfunctions.
Kou Vang has been a CSO for about a month and a half and is enrolled in the criminal justice program at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
“We get to meet all the officers, captains, sergeants and learn the ins and outs of the station,” Vang said. “We get to see how they do their work day to day as well as do our own. It’s a good way to gain experience.”
According to Captain Michael Brunner, the department has realized many benefits by utilizing CSOs.
“They have freed up police officers to respond to calls they are required to or need to like burglaries or theft or to investigate cases,” Brunner said.
Wentlandt expressed an enthusiasm for the way the program has helped the budget. He said savings to the department was almost $200,000 annually.
“We were able to reduce our sworn officer staffing by two officers and replace them with several part-time CSOs," he said.
Overall, the CSO program has received positive feedback from the officers, city and residents.
“They appreciate us,” Vang said. “The police have so much on their own hands that for us to drive through the streets and interact more with the citizens is a big help.”
Although every officer has a slightly different routine, Vang said he has regular stops.
“I go to the park and rides then major markets then drive through the streets and stop by the schools,” Vang said. “I try to get out and interact with the people.”
A CSO may apply for a position as a sworn officer with the department at any time. Vang has already done so and hopes to be accepted to the department soon.
“It gives us an opportunity to evaluate their work ethic before the hiring process,” Brunner said. “It’s been a very positive program for us so far.”