For Lodi Police Officer Caleb Hartmann, working night patrols alone in a small city means more freedom to explore — and learning to be proactive.
On otherwise quiet nights, Hartmann, a Lodi native, said he routinely conducts business security checks on foot, monitors traffic coming from out of town, varies his squad car patrol route and searches for suspicious behaviors.
“You don’t just sit there. Crime doesn’t come to you,” Hartmann said.
It’s a lesson he learned in 2014 during his first ride-along with former Lodi Police Chief Scott Klicko.
Smaller police agencies often require officers to handle every aspect of law enforcement, ranging from traffic patrol, attending community events, writing affidavits, investigating crimes, filing reports, enforcing ordinances and executing search warrants.
And many villages and rural Wisconsin communities share their limited resources, funds and staff to provide police services for citizens who are more likely to know those officers by first name.
Hustisford Police Chief Dan Link said the village board has allocated $3,000 each year to help increase the police department’s presence in local schools.
With that funding boost, part-time Hustisford Police Officer Jessica Rynearson said she’s able to spend about 15 hours a week as a school resource officer and build trust with local youths and community members.
“You have to be creative and establish a good rapport, not only with the community, but other factions like the schools and sheriff’s department,” Link said. “We can’t do it on our own.”
The village of Hustisford has a total 2019 budget of $720,000, with $153,000 allocated to the police department.
A 2019 operating budget allows six part-time officers to share 135 total hours of work every month, which helps cover afternoon and weekend shifts, Link said.
Lodi Police Chief Wayne Smith said wages and squad vehicle maintenance are among the biggest costs in a police department’s annual budget.
Lodi budgeted $2.77 million for city operations in 2019. Of that, 688,000 is projected to go toward the Lodi Police Department.
The local budget doesn’t always cover everything, and smaller police departments often seek grants from state and federal agencies to purchase new equipment, Link said. Larger agencies sometimes pass down used gear, too.
“It’s something of a little brother, little sister agency,” he said.
Because the Hustisford Police Department can only afford one full-time chief and six part-time officers, Link said his department sometimes relies on mutual aid from the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office to help ensure around-the-clock emergency coverage.
The Randolph Police Department has also benefited from grant funds, including a state Department of Transportation grant that allowed the local agency to acquire body cameras, Chief Michael Klavekoske said.
Other grants have made it possible to buy new squad car computers and breathalyzer tools, Klavekoske said.
Not every village or city has its own police department, leaving some county sheriff’s offices to supplement patrols and enforce local ordinances.
Various sheriff’s offices have their own methods of covering communities without their own police force, too.
While no communities in Sauk or Dodge counties pay their sheriff’s departments for dedicated patrols, several villages in Columbia County do. This arrangement can substitute for locally funded police services that typically exist in other small communities of similar size.
Columbia County Sheriff Roger Brandner said his department has paid contracts with three small communities, leading to a more proactive approach in rural areas.
“They don’t have their own police services, so we’re it,” Brandner said. “The residents in these small villages deserve at least some police presence.”
Pardeeville pays $382,000 a year to receive 6,240 hours of dedicated patrols divided among three full-time sheriff’s deputies, who serve as the village’s de facto police force.
Cambria foots a $63,000 bill each year in exchange for 1,044 hours of part-time law enforcement — which evens out to a couple hours of patrolling deputies every day.
Friesland pays $6,000 for various deputies to share 105 hours of dedicated services every year.
The village of Arlington maintains its own contract with the Poynette Police Department, which helps deliver services in its neighboring community, Brandner said.
Smith said the Lodi Police Department is among smaller agencies that sometimes rely on the expertise at larger departments to seek out data on devices such as cell phones confiscated during investigations or to provide emergency response units in case of critical incidents.
Just this year, Smith was sent from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office to provide interim administrative aid in Lodi after the department lost its three highest-ranking officers in a matter of weeks. Smith recently was hired by the city to continue serving as chief.
The sheriff’s office also provided a mobile command station in March when record flooding shut down Lodi’s downtown area and caused damages to some local businesses and residences.
Sauk County Sheriff Chip Meister said in order to cover every part of the county, at least one deputy is assigned in shifts to patrol four designated areas at all times and provide around-the-clock law enforcement.
Additionally, Meister said a couple other deputies generally patrol between all four areas of the county and can provide backup as needed. This routine makes it possible for a deputy to respond to incidents anywhere in the county within 20 minutes.
Deputies also use a system called Mach to track squad vehicles and coordinate faster response times in rural areas with help from local police departments in municipalities such as Baraboo, Reedsburg or Sauk Prairie.
“We don’t care in an emergency what color uniform gets there first, just that an officer gets there,” Meister said.
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Meister said a number of sheriff’s deputies are well-known in rural areas and can form close connections with community members through everyday interactions.
In smaller towns or rural areas, Hartmann said police officers have more chances to rely on their own discretion.
For example, Hartmann sometimes encounters teens outside after curfew, and he offers them rides home when he can. In doing so, he said it establishes trust and allows for a gentle reminder instead of a citation.
Klavekoske said it’s not unusual for community members to recognize him simply as Mike.
Being that close to citizens is nice because officers might feel more at home and have greater access to information during investigations, Klavekoske said.
On the other hand, Klavekoske said it makes responding to drug overdose calls that much harder, as the hyper-local police force shares a stake in every community success and hardship.
Klavekoske said one of his department’s officers, Mark Meyers, coaches youth football in the area. Klavekoske said he tries to balance officers’ schedules to accommodate off-duty commitments that benefit the community.
Sometimes citizens ask for favors during traffic stops or say they feel picked on over tall grass ordinance enforcement. Klavekoske said his department doesn’t waver, because applying equal treatment and reminding citizens of local laws helps the community thrive.
“I’ve got a job to do,” Klavekoske said. “I’m not gonna make all 1,800 people happy, but I try to do what’s right.”
The village of Randolph has a $1.75 million budget for 2019. The police department received $207,000 this year to support its full-time chief and three part-time officers.
Poynette Patrol Officer Ronald Spurbeck said working in a small city is rewarding because police follow cases from the initial incident until an investigation is resolved, which leads to deeper trust in the local community.
Many citizens call him by first name, and Spurbeck said people are more willing to cooperate with police in those situations.
“They’re showing that they treat their officers like human beings, ‘cause that’s exactly what we are,” Spurbeck said.
The Poynette Police Department employs one part-time officer and five full-time officers, including Chief Eric Fisher.
Spurbeck said the part-time officer generally leaves “a paper trail of sorts” for full-time officers to follow when they take over investigative duties.
The department’s 2019 budget is $571,454, compared to the village’s $1.58 million budget for 2019.
The police department shares its slice of the pie with other agencies such as the fire department and EMS crews. Poynette’s overall public safety budget for 2019 is $740,554.
A day in the life
Spurbeck, 29, said the nature of his daily routine varies. Sometimes he responds to numerous deer versus vehicle crashes or mental health-type calls. Other responses involve using a dog-catching net. He said unfortunately drug overdose calls also aren’t as rare as they used to be.
One challenge in being a small-town cop is balancing a sleep schedule when transferring between day patrols and night shifts. But Spurbeck said hardworking officers’ attitude about their work makes all the difference.
Part of what Spurbeck said makes his job rewarding is being able to witness local children grow up.
Spurbeck once pulled his squad car over while on patrol to help push a girl in her battery-operated toy car after it lost power on her way home.
Klavekoske, who also works as a part-time officer in the town of Fox Lake, said he wouldn’t trade any of his 37 years and counting in Randolph.
Klavekoske said he prefers to hire officers with at least some prior experience because his department can’t always afford to budget money or manpower to offer 16 weeks of training. He said he doesn’t want to leave trainees hanging or jeopardize their career.
But small cities and villages can be good places for younger recruits to build their career experience before moving on. Lodi’s former police lieutenant Craig Freitag began his own part-time police career in Randolph, Klavekoske said.
“We definitely attract the younger officers,” Klavekoske said. “If I get two to three years out of a guy, I feel I’m doing pretty good.”
Officers do everything in small towns, whether it’s patrols, investigations, ordinance enforcement, communicating with the district attorney’s office or being a crossing guard.
“That’s kinda what I like about it. You just never know what the day’s gonna bring,” Klavekoske said.
On a recent Thursday night, Hartmann, 23, was the lone officer on duty for an overnight shift. In those situations, that officer is responsible for any and all duties of the job, although emergency backup is always a call away.
Being able to problem-solve without immediate advice and learning from mistakes is key, Hartmann said.
“You become more self-reliant. You get more comfortable that you do all the work from start to end,” he said.
Hartmann, 23, began his police career as a volunteer auxiliary officer in his hometown of Lodi.
In that role, he helped with traffic control at events, assisted citizens with vehicle unlocks and enforced city ordinances. This gave him valuable experience and freed up other officers’ time to pursue drug investigations or respond to emergency calls, Hartmann said.
Hartmann also previously volunteered in Lake Delton, but felt more of a connection to a smaller community.
This is my community; it makes me want to work harder,” Hartmann said.