The Walworth County Sheriff's Office recently took some time to observe National Police Week. 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 awards ceremony on May 18. That ceremony recognized outstanding contributions by employees of the Sheriff's Office 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 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 55 men and women who comprise the patrol division do play an important role in responding to crime, rescuing stranded motorists and promoting highway safety. 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 is actually a very 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 2016, a total of 281 inmates (an average of 45 inmates per day) participated in our electronic monitoring program. This saves taxpayer money, while allowing corrections officers to know the whereabouts of each prisoner in real time. “Sober Link” technology, which was added in late 2015, makes it possible to remotely test inmates for alcohol consumption. These tests typically take place four to five times each day. Inmates who fail drug tests or other conditions of the electronic monitoring are returned to the jail. In 2016, 86 percent of inmates on electronic monitoring successfully completed their sentences in the program.
Communications. Making sure that officers are promptly dispatched 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 6 marine patrols. In 2015, the communications division logged 22,842 9-1-1 calls. One statistic that I always watch is the number of “landline” versus cellular emergency calls that are placed. The vast majority of calls to our dispatch center (nearly 83 percent) are now wireless.
Investigation Division. Detectives and drug unit members had a busy year. Investigations range from sexual assaults and burglaries to identity 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 cell phones, 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 does not permit me to list all of the critical 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 2016 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.
I have been attending the Sheriff's awards ceremony for many years. Like the rise in the use of cell phones and development of GPS, changes in society are often reflected in the operations of the office. One big change that I noticed this year was the number of times that deputies and corrections officers saved individuals that had overdosed on opioid drugs like heroin. The drug Naloxone, which is sold under the brand name Narcan among others, was recently made available to Sheriff's Office personnel. Naloxone, which is administered as a nasal spray, can block some of the effects of opioid drugs and actually revive individuals who have stopped breathing as a result of an overdose.
Deputy Dan Nelson was honored as this year's Deputy of the Year. Deputy Nelson is involved in a number of community initiatives designed to improve public safety. One of my favorite programs, “Operation Click,” creates awareness among high school students of the importance of wearing seat belts. The campaign involves a friendly competition to see which area high school can get the highest percentage of its students to wear seatbelts. Although I wasn't able to attend it this year, the program culminates with a luncheon in which one student wins a car. Deputy Nelson also organized last year's countywide National Night Out, an event designed to promote police community partnerships. Last year's event featured a demonstration of the Sheriff's K-9 unit as well as the opportunity for the public to see police and fire equipment up close. You can congratulate Deputy Nelson yourself at this year's National Night Out. It will be held at the Fairgrounds on the evening of August 1.