Walworth County Government Today: Sheriff's office employees provide a variety of vital services

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Dave Bretl | June 13, 2016

Walworth County observed a memorial day of a different kind recently as law enforcement agencies took part in National Police Week ceremonies. Established in 1962, police week pays tribute to those law enforcement officers who have fallen in the line of duty and recognizes the contribution of those men and women who serve their communities in law enforcement. In Walworth County, police week activities culminated in the annual sheriff's award ceremony on May 19. That ceremony recognized outstanding contributions by employees of the Walworth County Sheriff's Office as well as members of the public who assisted law enforcement throughout the year. The event, which used to easily fit in the lobby of the sheriff's office, has gained in popularity over the years. This year's ceremony filled the large jury assembly room at the Walworth County Judicial Center.

Whenever I attend the awards ceremony, I am reminded of just how diverse the mission of the sheriff's office is. Most people associate the office with uniformed deputies patrolling county highways. The patrol division does play an important role in responding to crime, rescue calls and promoting highway safety. In 2015, for example, deputies issued more than 6,400 traffic citations. Nearly half of those were for speeding. Patrol, however, is just one of the many important functions performed by the office. Other critical functions include:

• Corrections. The sheriff is charged, by statute, with operating the county jail. While this may seem like a straightforward task, the jail actually is a complex operation. For one thing, the inmate population is extremely diverse. Prisoners can range from an accused murderer awaiting trial, to an individual who has refused to pay a forfeiture ordered in a municipal court.

Keeping the public safe and the prisoners safe from each other is a job that takes place around the clock. As GPS technology has improved, the sheriff's office has made greater use of electronic monitoring. In 2015, 269 inmates participated in the electronic monitoring. This saves taxpayer money while allowing corrections officers to know the whereabouts of each prisoner in real time. The addition of Soberlink technology, which took place in late 2015, now makes it possible to test inmates for alcohol consumption at various times during the day. 

• Communications. Making sure that officers are dispatched promptly is the job of the communications division. In addition to dispatching its own deputies, the sheriff's communications division dispatches for 13 fire departments, 12 rescue squads, 13 police departments and six marine patrols. In 2015, the communications division logged 23,506 911 calls. I must be one of the last people to own an old-fashioned landline phone because more than 19,000 of the emergency calls were placed with cellphones.

• Investigation division. Detectives and drug unit members had a busy year. Investigations ranged from sexual assaults and burglaries to identification theft. The detective bureau needs to constantly stay on top of changing technology. Several detectives have gained expertise in the ability to analyze digital data. Being able to access files in computers and cellphones, for example, is becoming increasingly important in solving crimes.

• Support services. Civil process, court security and records management are just three important functions performed by this division. 

Space permits me to list only a few of the important services performed by the dedicated employees of the sheriff's office. If you would like to see the whole picture, I would encourage you to take a look at their 2015 annual report. It contains descriptions of all of the services provided by the office as well as a wealth of current statistics. It can be downloaded by following the sheriff's office link on the county's website, www.co.walworth.wi.us.

Dave Bretl is the Walworth County administrator. Contact him at 262-741-4357 or visit www.co.walworth.wi.us.

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