By Jacob Mathias
In the wake of increased anti-police sentiment and law enforcement directed violence, Wisconsin Rapids Police Chief Kurt Heuer and Wood County Sheriff Thomas Reichert said their officers and deputies are refocusing their safety efforts.
A police officer killed while on duty in Fox Lake, Ill., a village just north of Chicago is the closest a police killing has come to the area but both the Reichert and Heuer said their community relationships are strong and positive.
“Wood County has always been extraordinarily supportive of their law enforcement,” said Reichert. “We live in an area where people respect and actually care about their law enforcement officials.”
Eight law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty over the past month. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, shooting deaths of officers are up 40 percent compared with the same January-to-September period in 2014.
Heuer said that there are certainly some people in the area who are not fond of the police but those are by and large people who “make poor decisions and break the law.”
The two law enforcement officials said that personal safety of officers is something that is largely focused on at the academy level and throughout the year with various courses and refresher workshops in officer safety.
“It’s something we reinforce all the time. Whether it’s in self defense classes, whether it’s in the officer awareness type situations…the idea of officer safety is always paramount and always at the front of the training that we do,” said Reichert.
Heuer said that officers need to remain vigilant regarding their safety, especially when doing their routine duties such as traffic stops or gassing up their squad cars, as was the case when a deputy was fatally shot in Texas on August 28. He said the officers need to treat all contacts as if they’re on high alert and ready for a high risk situation.
“We need to be completely aware of our surroundings and make sure that we get our officers home safe at the end of the day,” he said.
Reichert said concern over officer safety has been a recent topic of discussion among the Sheriff’s Department and officers are giving it more thought than normal but he said it’s a situation they’ve always prepared for.
“I hope that officers have been considering this situation, that being of their own personal protection long before this became something that they’ve seen in the news,” said Reichert.
“Hopefully this isn’t an anti police movement and it’s just the ill thought out acts of individuals,” said Reichert. “It certainly isn’t a good situation that these types of senseless killings are happening. In these instances, gunning police down is just abhorrent.”