Police Want to Drop ‘Antiquated’ Residency Requirement

Sturgeon Bay Police Department is down four officers; Interim Fire Chief wouldn’t support removal of residency requirement for firefighters

Sturgeon Bay’s police officers would no longer have to reside within 15 miles of any city limit under a recommendation backed Monday by the city’s Personnel Committee.

Repealing that residency requirement, which is now effective six months after an officer is hired, was requested by the police department’s management team. Assistant Chief Dan Brinkman said the residency requirement is “antiquated” and limits the department’s ability to hire otherwise quality applicants.

Though the police union’s collective bargaining agreement signed in 2022 included lateral transfer language to attract veteran officers from other jurisdictions to apply for vacant positions in Sturgeon Bay – which is four officers short as of this week – Brinkman said that language has had little effect in attracting experienced officers.

“I give them our residency requirement as it stands now, and it slams the door on them,” he said.

Brinkman said he and Police Chief Clint Henry and Captain Chad Hougaard contacted law enforcement agencies in Brown County, where the Sturgeon Bay Police Department would typically draw interested candidates, and found out they were less strict than Sturgeon Bay, either allowing officers to live farther away or having no residency requirement.

He said the strictest a municipality may set a residency requirement for police officers is the current 15-mile limit, which was enacted in 2011 as part of Wisconsin Act 10.

Personnel Committee chair Dan Williams said he would prefer having the city’s workforce live locally, but understands the needs of being able to staff the police department.

“Everything we know about staffing has changed in the last two to three years,” he said. “I think we have to make sure that we continue to be with the times, if you will, and make decent, good-quality decisions that make sense for how today is working, not how it worked 20 years ago.”

Williams said it could be a concern if three-fourths of the police department resided outside of Door County, but he believes those who would do so would be the exception.

City Administrator Josh Van Lieshout said officers are leaving the police department for non-law enforcement positions, rather than to other departments for more pay and benefits.

“The issue that we’re talking about today, I think, is largely a geography problem, largely a two-income, professional family problem,” he said. “There’s a lot of factors that come into play when making these kinds of decisions [on residency].”

Brinkman said he does exit interviews of officers who leave the department, “and I can’t tell you one, since I’ve been doing these, that say, ‘The department is messed up. I don’t like the command staff. I don’t like the city.’ It’s other issues, and usually family dynamics that are pulling them away.”

With the department down four officers, the committee also backed a recommendation sought by Brinkman to create a part-time officer position.

Brinkman said the position could be filled by an officer leaving full-time duty who expressed an interest to stay on as a part-time officer.

“That would greatly alleviate some of the overtime,” he said.

Brinkman said he doesn’t want the department to be in a position where it would be “burning out our officers, even before the summer officially closes.”

“We’ve been in a situation before where we’ve seen officer burnout, but [the] staff shortage hasn’t been like this,” he said. “Chief Henry and I, and Captain Hougaard, want to get out in front of this.”

Regardless of whether the residency rule would be abolished for Sturgeon Bay’s police officers, the city’s interim fire chief, Kalin Montevideo, said she wouldn’t support doing that for firefighters.

“I would probably not be a popular person at all – I don’t care – I feel like my job is to do best for the fire department,” she said. “If that residency would ever get lifted within the city, I don’t think that’s a good idea for the fire department.”

Montevideo said the fire department’s response relies on its personnel getting to a scene quickly, and the 15-mile residency requirement also applies to the city’s firefighters.