I recently had a great chat with Shell Lake Police Chief Dave Wilson over a cup of "Grog" at my favorite coffeehouse, The Dock Coffee in Spooner, Wis.
The following are just some of the things we talked about.
What are you drinking today and what kind of coffee do you prefer?
The Dock's “Highlander Grog”. And I take my coffee black, with caffeine.
Being in Law Enforcement, can I assume coffee must be a regular part of your day?
It is... frankly a requirement for me, it allows me to “deal” with some challenging things that come my way.
You have been the Chief of Police for the City of Shell Lake for what, 4 years?
Actually, it has been 5 years now. I have been with the City for 21 years; weird how being only 26 years old allows this to happen.
Yeah right, 26. You are a military man, correct?
Correct. I am retired after a little over 23 years of service in the Army as an Infantryman, some Guard as well as Active Duty time, to include 2 tours of duty in Iraq. I was on the Fire Dept. for 11 years and EMS as an EMT for 14 years.
In your 5 years as Police Chief, what has changed?
The resurface of meth in the last 24-36 months at a level unseen before (and the problems associated with that). Also the technologies we now use in everyday work, such as Mobile Data Computers (MDC’s) in our squads, camera systems and the appropriate access to operating systems and files for that technology.
Has that technology change made things easier?
In most cases yes; by being able to access critical information directly to the Officer on the street or conducting an investigation. Administratively, however... every Officer has to have login passwords to the various “systems’ which many are restricted access, and I as the Chief have to sign them up, give access and approve it, so it creates work on my end.
What is your philosophy on the dynamic between Media and Law Enforcement?
I believe it is critical to have a professional working relationship with our media outlets, we are a service provider to the public, and the public has a right to know how and what we are working on, (with some restrictions on case-sensitive projects of course). A Good working relationship with the media can be beneficial, to the Department, to the media, and to the public that we both serve.
You have always responded to our questions when asked, and even if it’s a ‘no comment’, you have always been respectful and polite when doing so and we are very appreciative of that.
You mentioned meth as being a game-changer. In the 5 years you have been Chief, would you say meth is now the biggest issue you are currently facing?
Absolutely, it is the number 1 problem facing our community (and associated problems, caused by meth).
Is this an epidemic? If so, is this specific to just our local community?
Yes. This is a region/area wide problem, impacting most of Northwest WI, it is a time and resource draining epidemic, to multiple agencies within the “system”.
How does meth affect the community?
Many individuals involved with meth also commit property crimes, which impacts other citizens. The City, as well as County level services that are paid/subsidized by the community taxpayer become strained by people that have AODA and meth-related problems. The judicial system is full of these individuals, as well.
How are you and the Shell Lake Police Department fighting the Meth epidemic?
We are trying to the best of our ability the “three-prong” approach. Education/Deterrence (on the front-end), Enforcement and Accountability (the middle), and Referral to Treatment (the back-end).
But isn’t Shell Lake supposed to be Mayberry?
HA! Sometimes I silently wish that were true, that “old school” thought process is what I believe gives some people peace of mind to think “nothing like that happens here” it's Shell Lake! We have all the same concerns and issues as any other locations in Northern Wisconsin, the level/intensity of issues and people we deal with has increased since I have started with the department. An interesting dynamic we have is that US HWY 63, (one of the few main accesses to Northern Wisconsin) runs right thru the middle of town, and bring in elements from the “outside”. We are also a popular vacation/tourism destination.
What challenges do you think you and the Shell Lake Police Department will be facing in 5 years from now?
Not sure. Even though “Chiefs have a crystal ball” (not a standard issued item) things are always changing, issues come up, dynamics change. I do know if we don’t get a handle on the current meth issue, we will still be fighting that. Very hard to predict beyond that.
How do you cope with all of this?
I have learned over the years some decompression skills from Uncle Sam, and LE training, as well as trying to deal with one issue at a time based on its own merit. Can’t tackle more than you can handle. I have also “networked” myself with some amazing professional people that I can use as a “sounding board” for advice and guidance.
I love hunting of all types, and fishing and doing family activities. I mostly run a very active 12-year-old around, But Hunting is my passion. Family is everything in the big picture.
What are three things about you that most people don’t know?
- I am originally from Winterset Iowa
- I grew up on Lake Superior
- My wife is one of my very few heroes. Truly an amazing woman and person.
Thanks for the Chat, Chief, and stay safe out there!