To the editor:
An open letter to the community: Dear Ripon community,
I was recently asked by several citizens to comment on my thoughts and reaction to the recent events involving the tragic officer involved death of George Floyd in Minnesota that we have all seen in the news.
Typically, we would ask for patience as we wait for all the facts to be determined for the sake of Mr. Floyds family and the officers involved, but this case is different.
When something like this happens, what happened to George Floyd, we are all shocked and saddened. When I say ALL, I mean ALL, even myself and my fellow police officers.
I have not spoken to a single officer about this case that was not shocked, angry, stunned, saddened and believed that these officers acted in a way that not only caused Mr. Floyds death, but was contrary to all the training on use of force that we have trained on for many years.
So not only should you be critical and question what happened as fellow citizens, but every officer I know should be critical of what happened in this situation and they are eager to stand beside you and ask for justice for Mr. Floyd and his family.
As you start asking questions and ask why this happened and what consequences are just for those officers, I would ask you not to group every police officer, including the officers from YOUR department, into one big group that engages in this type of behavior across the board, without giving any thought to the individual officers themselves.
No question, the officers involved in Mr. Floyd’s death were wrong, period. Some of the officers were wrong for the way they treated that man, and some were wrong because they stood by and let it happen; that’s what makes this case different.
In my opinion, after nearly 30 years in this profession, as a father, and as a citizen of this country, there is no explanation that can defend what those officers did. When it is wrong, we will say it is wrong, the days of officers willing to defend any behavior like this I believe is gone, hopefully forever.
What happened to George Floyd was wrong. Myself and every officer in this agency would agree to that, and when that investigation is completed we all pray that justice will be done.
But to imply that every officer, including officers from this department, are out there engaging in that type of behavior every day is simply wrong as well.
Use of force data collected across this country would indicate that on any given day, across this nation, police officers will have between 200,000 and 300,000 citizen contacts. In less than 1% of those cases will there be any type of use of force. In fact, in 2017 (the most recent data I have available from the FBI), use of force by police was down nearly 70%.
Most police officers, I believe, are hard-working, dedicated professionals that want to make a difference in the communities they serve. They deal with things that the rest of society does not want to deal with; they experience grand emotions, and tragic loss. They work hard hours, sacrifice time away from loved ones, and put themselves in harm’s way to protect the innocent. They are loved and ridiculed.
They are communicators that the last thing they want to do is use force, but are trained to do so if legal and necessary. They are also part of your community; they are coaches, board members, and helpers in all kinds of community situations.
Our department, correction, YOUR department, has and will continue to maintain a very good relationship with our community. Because of the professionalism, training, values, and mission of our department we do not tolerate any indication from your officers or other staff of discriminatory, prejudicial, or otherwise inappropriate behavior. If we observed that, we address it immediately. It is not tolerated.
I believe that right now the city of Ripon has the most highly trained and educated department this community has ever had. I believe we have a top-notch staff and I would stack them up as officers, and more importantly, their character as people, against any officers in the country.
Just as you ask that they not be engaged in intolerant behavior and engage the community, I would ask that you consider doing the same. Talk to the officers, ask to do a ride along, see what they deal with in our community, which I would anticipate that most have no idea the kinds of things they are dealing with on a daily basis.
They are more than willing to reach out to you and learn as much from you as I believe you could learn from them about what it is like to be in their shoes. And when an officer commits acts like what happened in Minnesota, how angry they are at those officers, that would represent their profession in that matter, and cause the unwarranted and devastating death of this man, and the damage that has done.
We try and engage with our community as often as we can. Your department continues to be very involved in community policing in our city. We have many programs such as Shop with an Emergency Responder, the Anti-Crime Education (ACE), Police-School Liaison, National Night Out, designated area patrols, and problem oriented policing strategies, to name a few. These programs are specifically designed to have our officers engage the community and build a strong community connection.
We have built that relationship with other organizations in the community, the Ripon Area School District, Ripon Main Street, and Ripon College. These relationships and programs are always a work in progress, but they are important to continuing to build our strong community commitment and relationship.
Our officers are often doing things that no one knows about on their own time, because they have a commitment to their fellow man and their community.
We recently entered into an agreement with an organization called WisHope to provide immediate support and peer resources for those people struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, because we have long been an advocate of understanding that we can’t just arrest our way out of the opioid crisis we now face, we need partnerships involving treatment, education, and support to help in that battle.
A family member for someone recently helped by that program told me they were very grateful for the above and beyond help that the department offered their family member. They told me that they had involvement with other departments in other areas, and other states, and no other department had ever offered this type of extraordinary service to them.
We also stress the importance of training, technology, support, and hiring practices with your officers to maintain that high level of integrity that the community demands and should demand. We were one of the first agencies in the state of Wisconsin in 2015 to issue every one of our officers’ body cameras. We continue to be the only agency in Fond du Lac County that has every officer wearing body cameras and a formal body camera policy.
We also document and review every use of force incident that our officers may have to be involved in. When we hire officers we devote a large amount of resources into the background and personality of that potential officer.
We demand a high degree of character in our officers and I believe we have been successful in maintaining that level of professionalism.
But with that, things can happen, and officers will make mistakes, we are not perfect, that happens when you are in the human being business. But, if that happens, we address it immediately and take the necessary corrective actions. This is a standard that was set by my predecessor and is carried on today.
I don’t profess to speak for all the law enforcement officers in the country, and certainly will not defend or represent those officers involved in the George Floyd situation.
I can only speak about your department and your officers in the city of Ripon, they have a huge level of respect by me for the continued good work they do every day. They are some of the best people I have ever known and are willing to do a difficult job. I don’t believe any of them treat anyone of a different race, creed, religion, sexual orientation, or color different from the way they would want themselves or a member of their family to be treated by a police officer.
When you ask those questions about why or how this could have happened to Mr. Floyd, your officers are feeling the same emotion and asking the same questions.
I think all your officers within this department feel the same emotion and concern about any unwarranted pain and anger this incident has caused. In no way do they want to be associated with the officers involved in that incident.
Your officers realize the importance of working with the community, working together to solve problems, and being a source of pride that represents who we are as the city of Ripon.
I am extremely proud of the trust that this community has in your police department, and know that each and every one of your officers has a commitment to provide quality police service to the community by promoting a safe environment through police and citizen interaction, with an emphasis on integrity, fairness and professionalism.
On behalf of the members of YOUR police department,
— Chief Bill Wallner
Ripon Police Department
100 E. Jackson St.