Middleton Police Chief Discusses Department Policies

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Michelle Phillips

MIDDLETON–Middleton Police Chief Troy Hellenbrand knows that the city is removed of some of the policing challenges of larger cities, and he also know that policies can change and should. The Middleton Police Department has worked in the past few years to assess and improve policies, continue officer training, increase community outreach and better serve the public.

Recently calls for defunding the police have rung out nationwide, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. The incident of officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck in the street for more than nine minutes while other officers stood by and watched, was videotaped by a 17-year old bystander and set off a series of protests around the country and world. 

Hellenbrand said he was mortified by the death of George Floyd.

“What I have told people–I completely agree that there is some corruption in the larger forces,” he states. “We know in staff briefings what’s going on in the lives of our officers. It’s harder to keep track of 500 or 1,000 officers.”

After a list of changes called “8 Can’t Wait” (see box for Hellenbrand’s response to the list) began circulating as policies police departments could immediately change, Hellenbrand contacted the media to address Middleton’s alignment to those policies.

He says the Middleton department already has met those policy suggestions. Bodycams are one of the ways the department keeps a check on officers. Hellenbrand says the video is watched randomly, so officers don’t know when they will be under review. When an officer violates a policy and requires disciplinary action they return to remedial training. 

Training in Middleton is more lengthy in than many police departments. First officer trainees are at the Wisconsin Policy Academy for 720 hours of training. The next 13-14 weeks are spent with a specialized officer who evaluates the new hire, Hellenbrand explains. Next is a probationary period that lasts several months with mentoring by a field officer and supervisors. Once this is complete the officer is then on their own.

In addition, Hellenbrand said everyone gets specialty training and eight hours of annual in-service training. He adds that this level of training is pretty common in Dane County, and much of the local training is provided for free. 

Hellebrand says the department uses the least amount of force possible when apprehending someone. On rare occasions he says it has been necessary to use a taser or pepper spray. In most cases the officer can simple detain a subject who is resisting arrest by “placing and decentralizing them to the ground,” he says.

Officers have always been called to domestic situations, but mental health care concerns are something that has become more and more common in policing. Many officers receive 40 hours of crisis intervention training to learn how to handle the calls. 

“Twenty-six years ago, when I started, we had more resources for mental health care,” Hellenbrand explains. 

Now when someone needs mental health care, they are driven, in a squad car, two hours to the state mental hospital in Winnebago.

“I think it is the most horrible thing we can do to people,” Hellenbrand says, and adds that in many cases it is difficult for family members to visit when the patient is taken far from his or her home.

Hellenbrand said he is excited to have Miramont Behavioral Health opening in Middleton soon. The 72-bed facility that will offer inpatient mental health care as well as emergency services will be most welcome.

“The police association, locally, has been pleading with the legislature to do something about this for years,” he includes.

Hellenbrand says mental health calls have increased with COVID-19. He has noticed people are experiencing a lot of anxiety over the unknown. “Someone walked into our lobby nearly naked,” an example he uses of a recent event.

The chief says he is not opposed to calls for defunding police departments and reviewing the budget to see if it could be better spent elsewhere, such as social workers for the department.

A common definition of “defunding police” is to remove police budgets or alter them to include social workers and trauma and mental health care specials, training and policy change. 

Hellenbrand points out that change cannot just come from the police force. “We’re only a piece of that,” he reminds. He says other issues that need to be addressed are housing, health care, food deserts–the list goes on. 

Hellenbrand adds that the department is already down several officers. He says sometimes that can cause areas to suffer such as speed of calls, helping with lock outs or community programs. 

Community outreach has been important to the department and helps build relationships. That includes placing Student Resource Officers (SROs) in the schools. Currently, Kromrey and Middleton High School each have on SRO. 

Hellenbrand was, himself, an SRO in his early years at the department and says he has built some lasting relationships with students. He says he still hears from a couple of students. One calling him for legal advice, another wanting to hang out and play video games.

“I was an SRO 20-some years ago and it was one of the best jobs I’ve had,” he recalls. 

He doesn’t see SROs, through his own experience and that of his officers, as a “prison pipeline” as some schools claim. He says that the department and the school have a good working relationship and the duty of SROS is to keep kids and staff safe.

He says becoming the officer a child knows can help break down barriers and stereotypes.

Hellenbrand says that in dealing with situations in the community, whether with students or adults, the department always tries to deescalate it first and foremost.

Another measure taken by the department is to issue warnings for traffic stops whenever possible. “I don’t want officers issuing tickets.” Hellenbrand says. 

He includes that when necessary a ticket will be issued, but typically only one, even in the case of multiple violations. He says that he knows multiple tickets can sometimes be cost prohibitive and lead to an individual losing their license, then job, sometimes creating a snowball effect.

Hellenbrand says officers have given folks in need gas money or a coat, and that is what policing should be about–helping people.

“I wouldn’t work for an organization that didn’t have a sense of community,” he concludes. “It’s about taking care of people.”

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