What You Need to Know about the Law Enforcement Application Process

This article was written by Jerry Mullen, a Compliance Officer with the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

Law enforcement agencies around the country are facing a wave of retirements and resignations and are struggling to recruit new officers. A recent U.S. Department of Defense study found that 71% of Americans between the ages of 17 – 24 do not meet the minimum standards for military service. This impacts the eligible pool of applicants for law enforcement as the requirements for employment are similar and, in some cases, higher than those required for eligibility to serve in the United States military. Agencies are adapting to the challenging environment with some creative ideas such as paid sabbatical policies, forty-eight-hour shifts (similar to the fire service), signing bonuses, and retention pay.

The Advantages for Applicants

The incentives for applicants to the law enforcement profession have traditionally included job security, benefits, and the opportunity to retire early. The notion that they were entering a noble profession should not be underestimated. They wanted to serve the public and make a difference in their communities. There is no simple solution to the recruiting crisis, but the challenging environment provides advantages to potential applicants to the law enforcement profession.

The number of qualified applicants has diminished compared to the era prior to 2020. This provides an applicant with leverage. The applicant may be more selective in determining which agencies are a good fit. Gone are the days when law enforcement applicants were competing with thousands of qualified candidates. Many officers began their careers with agencies that were not their first choice, but it was the only option to pursue certification and receive sponsorship for academy training.

Law Enforcement Academies

There are twenty-one certified law enforcement academies in Wisconsin. Successful completion of the academy is required for a law enforcement officer certification. Certified officers from other states, federal agencies, and military law enforcement are eligible for a waiver of academy training provided that they meet the following requirements:

Police Academy
  • Completion of preparatory training
  • A minimum of one year of full-time law enforcement employment
  • Must be in good standing with less than three years since the last date of employment
  • Once approved, applicants have one year to pass the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Reciprocity examination

The Law Enforcement Academy Curriculum

The law enforcement academy curriculum is 720 hours or 18 weeks in duration. The Law Enforcement Standards Board approves the curriculum. Applicants attend one of fifteen academies at a technical college or one of six employer-based academies for those applicants hired by one of the following agencies:

  • Milwaukee Police Department
  • Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office
  • Dane County Sheriff’s Office
  • Madison Police Department
  • Wisconsin State Patrol
  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Different Ways to Attend the Law Enforcement Academy

Applicants have the option to attend the academy at a technical college as a self-sponsored student, provided that they meet the criteria for enrollment pursuant to Wisconsin statute and administrative code. Self-sponsored students are responsible for paying tuition and are considered certifiable upon successfully completing the academy. The advantage of the current challenging recruiting environment is that applicants will likely gain employment with an agency before attending the academy. The agency sponsors the student (otherwise known as a “recruit”) to attend the academy at no cost to the applicant.

How to Get More Information

Information regarding the application process, Physical Readiness Test, academy curriculum, college credit requirements, waiver process, and employment opportunities are available on the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Network: Home | WILENET (widoj.gov)

Questions may be directed to:
Jerry Mullen
Compliance Officer
Wisconsin Department of Justice
Training & Standards Bureau
(608) 266-7380 – desk
(608) 234-7432 – cell