The local crime headlines are beginning to read more like those from Milwaukee or Madison than in our small humble community of the Dells area. A man gets shot in the Walmart parking lot, a woman murdered in a hotel, a drive-by shooting at Bobbers, another shooting at the Broadway Travelmart, and some guy tries to run over a crowd at Automotion. People wonder if they are safe anymore even going to the store, out to eat, or to pump gas.
I’ve had several readers contact me over the past few months giving me their input on our crime issues and asking for a column on it. My readers have suggested a range of ideas and blame for our crime issues, from the caliber of people that vacation here to the price of some hotel rooms. Depending on their perspective, there might be truth in all of their blame.
We must face the fact that the Dells has evolved to a different place than what it was even ten years ago. The changing façade of our attractions, nightlife, and entertainment demonstrates that we have drifted away from being the mecca of “family-friendly.” While families are still welcome here, so are couples, bachelor parties, group outings, and party-goers.
So as the Dells grows, and boy have we grown over the past few years, it is to be expected that crime grows as well. The seriousness of our violent crime wave is a warning to us though, that whatever is being done now just isn’t working and it is likely to get worse. Effective crime fighting and deterrence needs a proactive approach by a community, and I am not talking about our police departments.
To start understanding our crime issue we need to understand who’s committing them. Too many people in this country fail to respect another person’s property, peace, ideas, and even life. Many feel our younger generations act entitled and are more willing to challenge social rules and established laws. If that is your perception, who taught them to be like that? Anyone with a selfish and defiant value system was trained and enabled by a supporting cast of parents, politicians, teachers, and influencers who created and demonstrated disrespect for others. I don’t care if you are a Millennial or Baby Boomer, a poor value system isn’t inclusive of just one age group.
How many moms and dads throw fits and blame everyone else except their kid when their kids get in trouble at school? How many politicians work harder at dividing this state and nation than they do to unify it? How many teachers stray from curriculums designed for critical thinking and objective thought instead to teach their personal and subjective views of history, social sciences, law, and economics? And how many actors, singers, athletes, and social media stars prove every day that being selfish, vane, disrespectful and defiant leads to popularity?
What this nation has allowed is a growing group of citizens, young and old, who are willing to yell, swear, fight, rob, and steal without a second thought. It’s a general lack of manners, decency, and respect, which leads to more defiant and entitled behaviors. Those behaviors could very well lead to violence and crime. It doesn’t matter if these people stay at the cheapest room at Mount Olympus, or the most expensive one at Kalahari, they will do as they please. It doesn’t matter if the person is from the inner city of Chicago or a grain farm in Iowa, they will defy the rules the same way if they were raised to do what they want. Contrary to some ideas my readers shared, our crime issues aren’t about race, age, poverty, etc. This is about upbringing and having respect. You were either taught it or you weren’t.
I predict the crime in our community is only going to get worse, and not just because people have less respect for one another, but because the Dells has lost a lot of respect for itself. As our tourism industry grew, some of the new business owners didn’t care what it meant to be good neighbors, community members, team-oriented, stewards of our beautiful nature and environment, and generally living up to the Dells brand. Just like some of those who visit here who are all about themselves, so are some of our business owners. You can see that in their merchandise, employees, cleanliness, customer service, and what they contribute to our tourism in general.
While we should start with the criminal when we want to point fingers for our crime issues, the next finger we should point is at what the Dells has become in some aspects. Selfish, loud, disrespectful, arrogant, and deceiving are also things that describe some business practices here. The Dells experience has been cheapened in many cases to capture a one and done patron, and it shows in what we are seeing in behaviors and crime.
Cleaning up the crime in the Dells starts with some tough love on what we are willing to tolerate as we move forward. Perhaps a dose of, “that is not acceptable here” is what we need more of. But who has the guts to say it?
Brian Landers, a former Wisconsin Dells mayor, writes a weekly column for Capital Newspapers. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.