Janssen Reflects on Time as Cross Plains Police Chief

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By: 
Katherine Perreth
Top to Bottom: Along with law enforcement memorabilia, in his office Chief Janssen displays the “Serve & Protect” picture created by his daughter, Melinda;Summer 2018, Janssen participated in the Park and Recreation Department’s youth archery program.

CROSS PLAINS–Citing an adage most cannot relate to, retiring Cross Plains Chief of Police Tom Janssen explained, “The life of a police officer is filled with seven hours of boredom, punctuated by five minutes of terror, followed by eight days of paperwork.”

In his experience, even in a village of a few thousand or throughout rural Wisconsin.

Janssen’s last day in the office will be Jan. 10. Recently he reflected on his 34-year career in law enforcement, and the changes he instituted throughout his tenure as chief.

When he moved from Manitowoc to Cross Plains in 2005, leaving behind roles as a SWAT sniper and on the scuba dive rescue and K-9 teams, Janssen welcomed the new challenges posed as police chief. The job also appealed to him because it wasn’t simply administrative, he said.

“I still got to do patrol work, and I really enjoy that,” he said. “What my officers got to do, I do too: vehicle lockouts, traffic stops, calls.”

Dispatcher Lisa Davis said that soon after Janssen arrived “the community’s perception of the police department changed, for the better.”

Janssen attributes that to the positive efforts of officers and staff engaging in the community, he said. He too has thoroughly enjoyed interacting with citizens, from shooting archery with a youth program, to informally sitting down with locals for coffee, now formally part of the Coffee with a Cop program, to the recent partnership with Dane County Sherriff’s Shop With a Cop, and attending National Night Out and other events sponsored by civic organizations.

“It reflects that we’re all in this together,” Janssen said, “when we’re a very integral part of our citizens’ day to day activities.”

Aiding that, Janssen said the department improved relationships with local kids through the addition of a School Resource Officer who serves Park Elementary and Glacier Creek Middle schools. “We fought for eight years to get an SRO,” Janssen said.

While encouraging their positive community engagement, Janssen continued to train officers in defensive tactics, he said. And the public in self-defense. Utilizing a program he helped develop in Manitowoc, Janssen and a previous colleague trained 10,000 women to monitor surroundings and practice a few effective defense techniques. 

“I hope we made a difference,” Janssen said. “I hope we helped, if nothing else, women be more aware of what’s going on around them.”

He knows that was true for at least one young woman, his daughter, Melinda. Well coached by her father, she enhanced her college instructor’s knowledge of self-defense, demonstrating a maneuver he’d never seen, even as ex-military.

“Her instructor called me, to get more instruction, and that was a proud daddy moment,” Janssen said, beaming. “Maybe he’ll be able to help someone else because of that.”

Although the pace of negative police engagement may have been slower in Cross Plains, that can prove harmful too, Janssen explained. “Officers can fall into complacency,” he said, “when you don’t have that heightened level (of alertness) for days, even months, and are thinking, ‘Oh, that’s just another headlight out,’ or ‘That’s not gonna happen here.’” 

Then something like the Paradigm shooting in Middleton occurs, he said. “And we know it can happen anywhere, anytime.”

During more than three decades of law enforcement, Janssen has been in life-threatening situations, sustained injuries and faced danger. While in the Manitowoc Sherriff’s Department, he once was stranded for five hours, at night, waist deep in a cold swamp. His body temperature plummeted to 86 degrees, he said. Another time, speeding down Airport Road soon after his arrival in Cross Plains, in pursuit of an evasive armed man.

Although he didn’t consider either event harrowing, looking back, he understands the affect his job has had on his family. Even more so, after losing one officer in 1998, shot in the line of duty, he said. “One night the kids were upset when I left for work,” he recalled, “knowing I might not come home.”

As a teenager, when he first told his parents about his career choice, his mother reacted with tears of fear, she’d wanted him to become a priest, while his father ironically guffawed. Janssen explained he’d been somewhat rebellious as a teenager. His parents supported his decision, even to the point of helping him purchase his first firearm, he said. Janssen wasn’t old enough at age 20. 

Years later, Janssen took his mother on a routine squad car ride-along. Unexpectedly receiving a call requiring lights and siren, Janssen gunned the vehicle while continuing to converse calmly, he said. “She grabbed the dashboard, white-knuckled, and yelled, ‘Slow down!’” he recalled with a laugh.

As for the armed man driving the backroads near Cross Plains, Janssen said it was so early in his employment as chief that he only knew the names of two roads. With the man headed into Janssen’s jurisdiction, Janssen zoomed back and forth on Airport Road, siren blaring. Dispatcher Davis kept him appraised of the man’s ever-changing course. On Janssen’s fourth pass of a citizen raking his leaves, the man threw down his rake, arms akimbo, gesturing an incredulous “What gives?”

But the adrenaline-infused event wasn’t over. Setting up a barricade with a Middleton officer, Janssen frantically searched his Cross Plains squad for spike strips, he said, finally asking dispatch, “‘Lisa! Where do we keep the spike strips?”’

“‘We don’t have any,’ she said. Well, we did the next week!” Janssen said, laughing. Janssen expects the community to embrace incoming chief Tony Ruesga the way Cross Plains did Janssen’s family, he said. “They welcomed us with open arms, and it was comforting, we didn’t feel so alone.”

Ruesga has already been learning from officers, riding along in squad cars, Janssen said, adding, “I think he’s going to be a really, really good fit for the community. 

Janssen’s retirement Open House will be held Jan. 18, 1-4 p.m. at the Cross Plains Fire Station.

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