Rhinelander’s first year police chief shares insights
BY EILEEN PERSIKE
In the 11 months on the job – just weeks shy of his one year anniversary – Rhinelander Police Chief Lloyd Gauthier said he’s learned a lot about the staff he oversees.
“The core value of what the employees have here is that they’re really committed to this mission statement,” Gauthier said. “The community needs to know they have an amazing team of employees here that are trying really hard to make this community a better place.”
The five elements of that mission statement include partnership with the community, solving problems, preventing crime, enhancing quality of life and providing a safe environment for the public.
Without community partnership, “we would be nothing,” Gauthier said. Currently the officers conduct the annual Citizen Police Academy, Shop with a Cop holiday event, participate in the “Not So Scary” Halloween trail at the YMCA of the Northwoods, and with the public’s help, are often able to have suspects identified from a Facebook post within a couple of hours. A bonus is getting an unexpected number of letters from the public commending his staff. Sgt. Christie Kondzela has received four or five letters of appreciation from the community in the past year.
“I think some of it is, with a police department you have that smaller connection with the community,” he said, adding that he expects the officers to show up everyday engaged and ready to interact with the community.
That interaction includes problem solving using a somewhat unorthodox approach.
“We have program where Josh (Chiamulera) and Kyle (Parish) go to drug users’ homes and visit these people, not for enforcement reasons, but out of concern,” Gauthier said. “What can we do to help you avoid this addiction.”
As an example, the detectives’ efforts led to a woman bringing heroin into the police department lobby asking that it be given Chiamulera and Parish because she didn’t want to use it. “That’s making an impact on the community,” Gauthier said.
Working to prevent crime is another part of the job description Gauthier said is “taken to another level” by some of the staff, such as Sgt. Angela Mertz who visits local businesses and discusses changes that can be made to keep them safer, and the work officer Amanda Young puts forth in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) and Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) programs at Zion School are all aspects of enhancing the quality of life for community members, Gauthier said. Additionally, the department is stepping up its active shooter training, offering it to the public next month, along with providing it for city and county offices and some of the larger work places in the city.
Gauthier said he is proud of the department’s crime clearance rate, currently at 78 percent. Nationally, the property crimes clearance rate is approximately 20 percent; Rhinelander is in the 60 percent range.
“To solve a crime from the first phone call, the first officer has to do his or her job to gather all the information they can, pick up any leads and some of the bigger cases, turn over to a detective,” said Gauthier. “If you don’t get everything the first time, it’s lost.”
Which leads back to the partnership he says is important to the department’s success.
“Over the past eleven months, I have witnessed each of (them) living out our core values and mission statement,” Gauthier said. “It is an honor and a privilege to be (their) chief.”
Two areas Gauthier said he wants to improve in the next 12 months are fighting identity theft with the elderly population and working with the youth to put an end to bullying.