Keeping our community safe

The Wausau Police Department’s 76 officers respond to about 40,000 calls annually, with the most common types of incidents involving traffic stops and miscellaneous criminal activity. The department deals with hundreds of welfare checks, dog complaints, vehicle crashes, civil complaints, medical emergencies, mental health calls, thefts and domestic disturbances every year.

Chief Ben Bliven encourages Wausau’s residents to get involved and engage the department.

“With 40,000 residents, as well as many visitors, we cannot be everywhere at once.” said Bliven. “We want the community to tell us their concerns and to call us when they see something suspicious.”

The department’s supervisors, command team and line staff focus their leadership on maintaining the agency’s high level of expectation when it comes to values, mission and vision. The department’s staff is made up those possessing a number of specialized skills.

“We have a wide variety of roles within our police department.” said Bliven. “Our department has four K9 handlers. These positions focus on drug enforcement. We actually have a fifth K9 handler who trained his personal K9 to be a comfort dog. That officer is assigned to the school and brings his dog to the school daily.”

“We also have four school resource officers, one in each high school and each middle school in Wausau. This is a partnership with the Wausau School District as they help fund the officers’ salary and benefits.” said Bliven. “These officers work closely with the middle and high school population as well as social services and district administrators. They are some of our busiest officers.”

The department has five officers who participate in the joint Marathon County SWAT team, three officers on the Marathon County dive team, a crash team which includes a pair of crash reconstructionists and six detectives and two detective supervisors who work more involved investigations.

“Our field training officers are some of the most important members of our staff because they train our new officers to perform as a patrol officer the ‘Wausau way.’” said Bliven. “They must be extremely knowledgeable in every area of our department and guide new hires in our mission and values.”

The department’s patrol officers are typically the newest staff members. However, they often receive additional training in many aspects of a police department’s core functions like crash investigation, interviewing and interrogation, drug interdiction, OWI enforcement and much more.

“The agency also has two special investigations unit members. The special investigations unit is a joint team in which two Wausau officers, two Marathon County deputies and one Everest Metro officer work out of the Sheriff’s department under the supervision of a Marathon County Lieutenant to enforce and investigate major drug cases. They receive a high level of training to investigate and interdict drugs in our community.” added Bliven.

“Our community resource unit was formed a few years ago to address blight, nuisance activity, prostitution, smaller drug cases and more. This unit is made up of four officers assigned to work these cases and one supervising lieutenant.” said Bliven. “This is an agile group whose focus can change frequently, depending on the current demands of our community. One officer is assigned to represent the police department at each of our nine neighborhood group meetings each month. These officers have very technical skills in problem solving neighborhood issues and focus on long-term change rather than a Band-Aid-type of solution.”

A newly formed crisis response team consists of one Wausau PD officer and one Marathon County deputy.  Each is paired with a crisis worker from North Central Health Care. They are specially trained to respond to mental health calls, assisting those with mental health needs as well as those with addiction issues.

“Our victim resource unit is a recently formed, grant-funded unit. We hired a mental health therapist to provide counseling services to victims of crime. An officer works with the counselor to conduct follow-up investigations and to help the counselor identify all of the community resources available to people who are unaware or unable to pay for needed services.”

Despite the many dark moments the members of the department see, there are plenty of opportunities to lift others up, give them hope, lend a hand, provide a smile and have positive impact in their lives.

A few years ago, the department received a Facebook message from a man who was talked off a bridge a decade earlier by Wausau Police Department’s staff. The message thanked the members of the agency for saving his life.

The department has also received letters from residents thanking officers for arresting them as it led to a needed change in their lives and from those who were able to leave a destructive relationship due to an arrest of an abusive spouse. Officers have displayed exceptional kindness when buying groceries for individuals after they were issued a citation for stealing and when shoveling the driveway for a family who just had member arrested.

“We come to work each day hoping we don’t have to see you in the course of our duties.” said Bliven. “We don’t mean any offense by that, but we are called when people in our community are having a very bad day. Please know that should you ever need us, we will be here to help. In the meantime, we will be working diligently to improve, seek excellence in our profession, and enhance the quality of life in our community.”

“We have a number of officers who are part of the ‘Bigs in Blue’ program through Big Brothers Big Sisters and a number of our staff are on a variety of non-profit boards. Members of the department participate in the planning of a variety of community events, serve as volunteers and display a commitment to our community both on- and off-duty.” added Bliven.

“We live in this community, our friends live here, and our families live here. We have a vested interest in making our community a better place. Please give us a call if there is anything you think we can improve upon or just to let us know your concerns.” said Bliven.

This article initially appeared in Wausau Neighbors magazine, Best Version Media

Photos by Kaitlin Brown Photography

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