Changes filled the air for Falls Police Dept. in 2015

by Jeff Pederson Sheboygan Falls News Editor

THE SHEBOYGAN FALLS MUNICIPAL BUILDING renovation project, which was completed in 2015, included the addtion of a new sally port in the police station. - Falls News photo by Jeff THE SHEBOYGAN FALLS MUNICIPAL BUILDING renovation project, which was completed in 2015, included the addtion of a new sally port in the police station. - Falls News photo by Jeff After enduring nearly a year of construction related distractions, the Sheboygan Falls Police Department welcomed its newly upgraded home base with open arms in 2015.

While other city departments, including City Hall and the fire department headquarters, were temporarily relocated during the Municipal Building renovation process, the police department remained at its familiar location throughout the year long construction process.

SFPD Police Chief and Director of Police Safety Steve Riffel is pleased at how the police station upgrades have improved the safety and efficiency of the department.

“The impact has been tremendous,” Riffel said. “The facility is safer, up to date and will ensure our needs to provide service are met for many years to come.

THE NEWLY RENOVATED Sheboygan Falls Police Station features a brand new command center. - Falls News photo by Jeff Pederson THE NEWLY RENOVATED Sheboygan Falls Police Station features a brand new command center. - Falls News photo by Jeff Pederson “Prior to the update, we had a sally port to bring in prisoners that doubled as a co-ed locker room, and storage area with no room for squad storage,” he said. “That forced us to run the squads even at idle almost all the time to make sure the computers and systems didn’t freeze up. Now we have a heated garage and we have observed a dramatic decrease in gas costs already. Also, all our rooms are on one floor and included within the police department. This prevents water damage to files and evidence that had been stored in the basement prior to the renovation. We certainly appreciate the new facility.”

Just as it did in 2014, the SFPD dealt with several more personnel changes last year.

Officers Ben Meinnert, Jesse Smith and Renee Bramstedt left the department in 2015 and were replaced by Zachery Delk, Thai Yang and Paul Tiegs.

“Law enforcement in Wiscon- sin has changed in the last number of years,” Riffel said. “I’ve spent time speaking to chiefs and sheriffs from all over the state. Some of the shifts in how we recruit and do business are the result of state legislation and some are from the age and approach of the new people coming into policing.

“We had officers leave to take promotions in other departments as our command staff is small and those type of opportunities are limited here.

“Two officers pursued opportunities in other departments that either were larger or provided things they wanted,” he said. “We have hired officers from other departments as well. The days of hiring an officer and watching that officer serve only one community for 30 or more years is basically over. New officers today look for better opportunities in regards to benefits, job challenges or even to do something totally different than policing. We have excellent officers here. I am very happy with our staff. We hired an officer from the UW-Stevens Point Police, one from a sheriff’s department down south and now, completing our full staffing level, we’ve added an officer from the Port Washington area. Everyone here is committed to Sheboygan Falls and happy to serve a community that is very pro-police, as you don’t see that everywhere.”

The SFPD staff currently, includes Police Chief and Director of Public Safety Steve Riffel, Deputy Chief Steve Ross, Captain Aaron Wigen, Lt. Scott Hoogester, School Liaison Officer Doug Hall (part-time investigator) and patrol officers Eric Cruz, Nicole Schmelter, Eric Wischki, Matthew Pradarelli, Andrew Gabrielse, John Palese, Zachery Delk, Thai Yang and Paul Tiegs.

The administrative staff includes administrator assistant Jessica Launer (office manager), as well as part-time secretaries Nicole Mauer, Carmen Courtright, Carrie Nachtwey and part-time clerk Shelly Schleicher.

“This year we are focusing on our goal of being at full staff, which we are at right now,” Riffel said. “In addition, our new K9 program is now being trained and implemented.”

According to the department’s 2015 annual report issued by Riffel last week, the total number of service calls jumped by 370 from 2,849 in 2014 to 3,219 in 2015.

Riffel indicated this increase is due in part to the city’s continued growth.

“People in Sheboygan Falls call on us to assist them in times of need,” Riffel said. “These needs vary. Some are not law-enforcement related. However, we are here to serve the community and feel that this is what sets us apart from the other places people live and work. That is some of it.

“Other reasons include the fact that there are more people living, working and visiting Sheboygan Falls, which is good, but that will also dictate more calls,” he said.

The top service call for SFPD officers involved property checks, which they did 1,045 times last year, up from 766 in 2014.

In addition, the department responded to 340 calls to assist people, 331 ambulance calls, 303 general assist calls and 239 suspicious circumstances calls in 2015.

Rounding out the top 10 service calls were open doors (144), miscellaneous (141), school assist (136), mental-welfare (127) and tavern inspections (126).

While service calls continued on an upward trend, the volume of large investigations dropped again in 2014.

The total number of ordinance investigations fell by 239 from 1,606 in 2014 to 1,367 in 2015.

“A big reason that we attribute to the decline in ordinance investigations is our very proactive approach to policing,” Riffel said. “We focus on talking to people, being visible and staying involved in the community. This is a proven application to reduce these numbers.

“The best compliment we receive is from residents who tell us they love living here and part of the reason they do is that our officers and department really are out serving and interacting with the citizens and seem to identify problems or police challenges before they may get out of hand,” he said.

Among ordinance investigations, parking violations ranked first at 371, disorderly conduct was second with 269, accidents were third with 162, miscellaneous ended up fourth with 131 and animal complaints were fifth with 101.

Misdemeanor investigations decreased by 43 from 348 in 2014 to 305 in 2015.

Disorderly conduct was the top misdemeanor investigation with 69. Miscellaneous was second with 34, followed by drug (30), domestic (29) and driver revocation (20) investigations.

Felony investigations fell by 20 from 123 in 2014 to 85 in 2015.

Forgery and fraud cases topped the list of felony investigations with 25, followed by miscellaneous and burglaries (9), assaults (8) and child abuse (7).

Total arrests increased by 493 from 2.455 in 2014 to 2,948 in 2015.

Warnings came in as the top arrest category with 1,629 reports, traffic arrests were second with 800, followed by ordinance (228), misdemeanor (161) and operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated arrests (69).

The investigative hours tallied by officers increased by 207 last year from 2,938 in 2014 to 3,145 in 2015.

“We are proactive and we have faced some real issues over the past year,” Riffel said. “We want to ensure that we provide the message that we will take law enforcement measures when warranted.

“Also, investigations are much more complicated than even five years ago,” he said. “Computer crimes, identity theft, drug crimes and property crimes take a lot more time and are more complicated than in the past. Several laws have been implemented that dictate how the investigations have to be conducted as well. This all plays a part in the arrest figures.”

According to Riffel, the SFPD took great strides in becoming a fully accredited law enforcement agency in 2015 and looks to carry that process even farther this year.

“We began the long process of seeking Wisconsin Law Enforcement Accreditation last year,” Riffel said. “This process involves an outside evaluating team examining the department over the course of days to see if the policies and procedures, the facility, the staff and the service we provide meet the high standards they set.

“We have prepared an officer through many training sessions to begin that in 2016,” he said. “This will be an entire department team effort. This is our biggest priority as far as initiatives. This is a voluntary thing, but it is very important to illustrate our commitment to professionalism.”

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