Heather Medina grew up playing football and kickball with friends at Goodyear Park, long before the Portage Family Skate Park was built.
The extended group also played Ghost in the Graveyard − a variation of hide-and-seek mixed with tag − in a parking lot that now belongs to the Portage Fire Department.
She graduated in Portage High School’s Class of 2005. Someday her two daughters might graduate from that same high school, too.
The newest Portage Police Department patrol officer drives past all these memorable locations during every shift, mostly overnight. She’s usually one of three officers who swap patrol routes every four hours on third shift.
But learning how to navigate the city by street names and city limits instead of landmarks was one of the biggest challenges Medina faced during a three-month training period after she was hired in January, she said.
“Instead of serving my country, I’m serving my community,” said Medina, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served between 2005 and 2009 and was deployed to Iraq.
Medina took on her first solo shift March 31. In the three weeks since, she said she’s become more comfortable with public contact by responding to more calls and conducting traffic stops every day.
“We’re all in this together. We have to look out for each other,” Medina said of the community and police.
She aims to treat everyone as if they were her grandmother, because consistent professional conduct can sometimes change community members’ outlook.
She said she believes good policing means understanding that everyone is human and makes mistakes. But laws need to be enforced, and the fact that police have the power to take people’s freedoms away through arrests is not something to be taken lightly, she said.
Helping people is her favorite part of the job, and although drunken driving arrests can be stressful, she feels good knowing it could save other people’s lives by removing an impaired driver from the streets for the night.
She’s also learned no two calls are the same, and domestic incidents vary widely. Wisconsin statutes mandate officers arrest any person suspected in a domestic violence incident.
Another issue Medina said she’s become more aware of is how common welfare checks and 911 hangups are in Portage.
She also likes to occasionally conduct foot patrol to ensure downtown storefronts are safely locked up at night.
Since being set loose on solo patrols, Medina also helped fellow officers Cameron Coronado and Sarah Rueth use a defibrillator and CPR to save a man’s life Tuesday.
Medina said she appreciated hearing directly from the police chief, who often recognizes his officers for their work in the community and has an open door policy.
Portage Police Chief Ken Manthey said he tries hard to keep communication lines open between officers and with the public to make the department more approachable.
Manthey said he’s received compliments from the public about Medina’s compassion on the job.
“She’s a very dedicated and intelligent officer,” Manthey said. He was glad Medina was able to attend the funeral for slain Milwaukee police officer Matthew Rittner in February. Rittner also was a Marine Corps veteran.
Medina met her husband, Dan, in the Marines, when she was his supervisor − a running joke in the family. But their healthy competitive spirit always has been one of mutual respect, she said.
Dan Medina is a Columbia County Sheriff’s deputy, and he and Heather Medina can lean on one another for additional support as members of law enforcement.
She also considers herself lucky to be able to serve her hometown police and community while living near family. Her three sisters often help babysit her daughters.
The only thing Medina said she hates about Portage?