LODI (WKOW) — By the end of May, the Lodi Police Department will have to get creative to fill its spots because half of its staff is leaving.
With six full-time officers, Lt. Craig Freitag said he understands the department is small, but it’s always been enough to get the city’s work done.
“We have very good officers who are doing a great job for the city and the department, they’re worried with the next step,” he said.
The first sign the small department was getting smaller happened when Chief Scott Klicko resigned in late April. He cited personal reasons.
Freitag is serving as interim chief. He’s currently working to hire another patrol officer because one is leaving for another department next week.
“It’s absolutely not the best timing,” Freitag said.
He said the timing is even more difficult because he plans to leave too, at the end of May. Freitag accepted a chief position in Clintonville, but he said it’s bittersweet when he thinks about the officers he’s leaving behind.
“My biggest concern is the remaining staff, them getting burned out,” he said.
As the department of six shrinks to three officers, Freitag said filling each position comes with a different challenge. The patrol officer would be the quickest turnaround. He said it takes about two months to hire a patrol officer and then they would train for several months.
The manager positions require four to five months of searching, interviews and vetting as the city police commission has to choose the candidates.
In the meantime, Freitag said the department will need help.
“But at some point, somebody can’t continuously be working 12-14 hour shifts,” he said.
Lodi is far from the only city experiencing police staffing issues. Since 2013, there are about 25,000 fewer full-time officers in the United States. Even in Madison, the department has struggled to recruit enough officers to fill the spots of retiring officers. In October, Madison’s chief told us the department sees about half the applications it saw just 10 years ago.
As for departments like Lodi, Freitag said staffing shortages hit harder. After the departures went public, Freitag said he’s taken many calls from people across the community.
“They’re concerned for the safety of the city,” he said.
Freitag said the department is considering a few options to help police the city through partnerships with other departments.
“Columbia County has helped us out in the past with resources whether that’s equipment or personnel,” he said.
Freitag said they’re looking for someone from the sheriff’s office to come in to work in an administrators position while the department waits for a new chief.
The police commission is meeting Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. to discuss other potential solutions.
Eventually, the department will be back at full staff.
“It’s gonna take some time,” Freitag said.
Freitag said he will take care of the first round of interviews but the police commission will take over the search after he leaves.
They hope to have all of the spots filled in five months.