How the county’s top law enforcement officer communicates with the community at large is an issue for both candidates for sheriff.
Incumbent Sheriff Brad Hardel points to his local fundraising for a canine unit and his efforts to launch a countywide search-and-rescue dive team as examples of his reaching out to the community.
Manawa Police Chief Dave Walker, who is challenging Hardel in the Sept. 14 Republican primary, criticizes what he sees as a lack of communication between the sheriff and other law enforcement agencies.
Walker said the sheriff’s decision to begin enforcing the county’s cell phone ordinance was made without notifying or getting input from local police chiefs.
“It made things awkward for us because members of our communities didn’t know if the ordinance would be enforced in municipal jurisdictions,” Walker said. “If you’re operating as a team, there shouldn’t be any need to deal with things like that.”
Walker said the sheriff’s office needs to work in partnership with all the police departments in the county.
“I have a vision of an enhanced working relationship with the chiefs,” Walker said. “The relationship between the sheriff and the chiefs has to be built on trust and respect. “I don’t have a problem building such a relationship.”
Hardel responded that the county ordinance had been enacted nearly a year prior to his announcement that it would be enforced.
“I wanted to educate the public about this ordinance with signs and information in the media prior to our enforcing an ordinance that only applied in Waupaca County,” Hardel said. “There were also questions about whether county patrol officers could enforce the ordinance within city jurisdictions.”
He said he plans to work with local jurisdictions regarding enforcement of the county’s ban on using cell phones while driving.
Hardel said the new programs he has implemented since taking office four years ago would not be possible without donations from the community and participation by other agencies.
Hardel noted that he is currently working with fire departments in the county to establish a dive team.
“We have a lot of lakes in Waupaca County and the May drowning near Waupaca made it evident that we need a dive team,” Hardel said. “The county doesn’t have the personnel for a complete dive team. So, I contacted about half the fire departments in the county to see if they were interested in working with us to form a team. They have certified divers, plus others who are interested in being trained. We now have at least 12 divers and we hope to have the team ready to go by next spring.”
Hardel said his department already has boats available to cover the Chain and the Wolf River.
“As we get the team organized, we’ll see what we need for equipment,” Hardel said. “Most of the firemen who are already certified have their own equipment, but we’ll have to do fundraising and apply for grants to cover costs for more equipment and training. We plan to pursue this without impacting the county’s budget.”
Walker was also critical of the way Hardel handled the incident when a deputy Tasered an 85-year-old resident of the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King. Staff at WVH called the sheriff’s department in February and reported that the man, who reportedly has dementia, left the facility and threatened suicide. A deputy was dispatched to King.
When the man failed to cooperate and refused to remove his hands from his pockets, the deputy stunned him with a Taser.
According to a TV station, the sheriff refused to go on camera for an interview. And Chief Deputy Al Kraeger handled most of the questions from the news media.
“As sheriff, I will represent the staff, good, bad or indifferent,” Walker said. “I’m not going to be afraid to go on camera and tell the public what happened. And I’m not going to have my chief deputy fulfill that obligation. That’s my responsibility.”
Walker said he believes the sheriff should have made more of an effort to explain what happened to the public and what steps he was taking to evaluate and follow up on the situation.
“Maybe the outcome would have been a recommendation for further training. Maybe the officer did the right thing. Maybe the policy needs to be reviewed,” Walker said. “But the results need to be made public.”
Walker pointed to his own prior experience working in law enforcement in the Seattle area, where he helped establish a community policing plan that brought county and municipal law enforcement agencies in closer contact with each other and with the public.
“I’m for openness and disclosure and keeping the public informed,” Walker said. “If you don’t have that foundation of openness as your basic operating principle, things will not go well in this day and age.”
When asked about the Tasering incident, Hardel said, “None of us liked what happened, but the deputy acted according to our policy and the man wasn’t hurt.”
He said he spoke with reporters from the TV stations several times and gave them the information they requested.
“I just didn’t go on camera with them because I didn’t want to further sensationalize it,” Hardel said.
Hardel said the department reviewed the incident and how the deputy responded to the situation. He said he also spoke with WVH staff regarding the incident.
“I asked if there were any training opportunities available on how to handle dementia patients,” Hardel said.
In July, about 10 deputies participated in training at WVH on how to work with dementia patients. During the four-hour sessions, the officers were given background information about dementia, how it affects their behavior and what normally works and does not work with dementia patients.