2023 is only five months in, and it is already the deadliest year on record for law enforcement since 2000.
Four officers have been killed in the state this year – Milwaukee Police Officer Peter Jerving was shot and killed while pursuing a robbery suspect in February, Chetek Officer Emily Breidenbach and Cameron Officer Hunter Scheel were shot and killed in a traffic stop in March, and the latest, St. Croix Sheriff’s deputy Katie Leising, was shot and killed performing a field sobriety test on Saturday March 6.
Wisconsin Professional Police Association Executive Director Jim Palmer tells WTMJ there’s a culture of violence bigger than these incidents.
“Over the last several years we’ve seen a serious willingness on the part of many people to resist officers and assault officers in particular in the line of duty,” he said.
According to the US Department of Justice, the number of officers assaulted in Wisconsin has increased by 42% in the last five years. Palmer said another factor is the staffing crisis facing departments across the state.
“We have the fewest number of officers working in this state since 2008,” Palmer said.
Leising was shot and killed after she responded alone to a car in a ditch and was in the process of performing a field sobriety test on the driver, Jeremiah Johnson, who was suspected of operating under the influence. Palmer said it’s a scenario that affects rural officers more than urban ones.
“Their backup support could be as far as 20 to 30 minutes away,” he said. “Officers in a rural setting are far more likely to confront a situation without the close availability of backup.”
Palmer did stress that the staffing issue is one that doesn’t discriminate between rural and urban departments, and that Leising’s death will have an impact on that as well.
“This tragedy and tragedies like it are only going to further impair the ability of law enforcement agencies across the state to recruit and attract new applicants,” he said.
Palmer called on lawmakers in Madison to resolve their differences over the state budget in order to invest in law enforcement.