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Area cops: Racial tensions not issue here
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MONROE - As a nationwide debate regarding proper law enforcement in minority communities rages on, here at home, in area communities with comparatively little racial diversity, police officials say tension between minority groups and law enforcement is not a problem.

Monroe Police Chief Fred Kelley said that his department sees very few non-white police candidates, much less applicants fluent in other languages.

The most recent data from the United States Census Bureau estimates that 97.8 percent of Green County residents identify as white. The second-highest ethnic group in the county is Hispanic, at 3.8 percent.

Kelley said that the Monroe Police encounters at least one person per week who is not fluent in English. However, no officer in the Monroe Police or the sheriff's departments of Lafayette and Green counties is bilingual in English and Spanish.

"Given people's Swiss heritage around here, we might have officers bilingual in English and German," Kelley said.

Lafayette County Reg Gill said some deputies have an elementary understanding of Spanish and his department has access to interpreters if necessary. Advances in technology also allow deputies to run voice-activated translation applications through their smartphones.

However, Gill said, encounters with non-English speakers are increasing. But with police recruitment dropping off considerably in the last year, agencies cannot afford to impose a bilingual requirement.

Part of the reason for the drop in police recruitment is likely because of a growing anti-police sentiment nationwide that gained traction with the shooting death of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, Kelley said. This sentiment has become more prominent alongside the racial justice activist movement Black Lives Matter and culminated in the last month with attacks on police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which claimed the lives of eight officers.

"This past month has proven that law enforcement isn't safe," Kelley said.

However, Kelley said that the cost of enrolling in police academy has increased in the last several years along with the number of required training hours. Because of this, Kelley said, fewer people believe becoming a police officer will yield a return on investment.

Green County Sheriff Mark Rohloff said Green County doesn't have the demographics to expect a diverse police force.

"Our pool of applicants is just going to be different than in Chicago or Milwaukee or Madison," Rohloff said.

Police candidates are not accepted based on their ethnicity, Rohloff said. In fact, it is illegal for police tests to ask the applicant's ethnicity, sex or even age.

Therefore, Rohloff said, he does not know how many minority applicants the sheriff's department receives each year. But by the same token, he said, no candidate is turned down because of their race.

Rohloff added that the issue of diversity is less of an issue in rural areas. Rural communities are not divided by ethnicity as much as urban areas do, which makes it much harder to target a minority group.

"We don't have Hispanic neighborhoods or black neighborhoods or anything like that," Rohloff said. Because of this, Rohloff said, officers can't change their behaviors based on what neighborhoods they are in.

Rohloff said that police tensions simply don't affect Green County very much. The last time a police firearm was discharged in the county was when officers shot dead an armed murder suspect in July 2015.

The last time a Green County officer was shot on duty was nearly a century ago, when Sheriff Matt Solbraa was shot and killed by a homeless man in 1919, Rohloff said.

"One thing about this situation is that it's given people the opportunity to reflect that these problems don't happen here," Rohloff said.