"To Serve, Protect, and a Whole Lot More": A Dangerous Duty - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

"To Serve, Protect, and a Whole Lot More" Part 1: A Dangerous Duty

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Eau Claire (WQOW) - We're taking a never-before-seen look inside Eau Claire's nearly $16 million police force. "Our kids go to school here, our spouses work in town, so we want to do what we can to protect everybody," says Eau Claire Police Sgt. Aaron Jensen. That protection comes with a training program that 20 years ago didn't exist, because the threats they now face didn't exist either. 

In part one of our series "To Serve, Protect, and a Whole Lot More", we'll take a look at the day-to-day dangers these officers face, and what the city is doing to prepare its officers.

They're on the streets, in neighborhoods, and sometimes in the rearview mirror.

But there's a lot you probably don't know about these men and women in blue.

"You know most of us live in town, so it's personal when bad things happen, it's personal," Sgt. Jensen says.

With a city of 65,000 to patrol, organization within the Eau Claire Police Department is key. Headquarters is busy 24 hours a day.

"At the Eau Claire Police Department we have 100 officers, their jobs primarily range from the patrol unit to the detectives division, as well as a few other roles throughout the department," says Eau Claire Police Officer Kyle Roder. "Our number one priority is to keep the community safe."

And with around 31,000 calls every year, these officers are on the go, constantly, but in cramped quarters.

Most offices come equipped with a computer, a phone, a desk chair and probably a lot of papers.

But for the department's 75 officers on the streets, squad cars are their offices, complete with computer, a few more accessories, and even a printer.

That "office" allows officers to spend more time out on the roads.

"I'm just looking for, obviously traffic violations and equipment violations, and driving, you know, obvious signs of impairment," says Officer Terry Nicks, patrolling the streets during his midnight shift.

But officers also have a difficult and dangerous duty to do. That danger was front and center back in October, when an armed carjacker was shot and killed by an Eau Claire Police Department officer. Police say he refused several commands to drop his gun and started coming toward the officer when he was shot. 

Across the country, one law enforcement officer is killed every 54 hours.

"It's very concerning, I would be lying if I said that you know, I don't think about it or my family doesn't think about it. At the same time I really love what I do and the department, we go through a lot of training, so it's something that I feel comfortable with," says afternoon shift Officer Jake Gullickson, who's been with the department for 2 years.

And that training helps prepare officers for an ever-changing and increasingly dangerous threat.

"Police tactics have changed because unfortunately the threats that we're facing have changed," says Tactical Response Team Commander Sgt. Randy Fahrenkrog.

The department's 24 person tactical response team is on the front line of that threat often. They get called out to high-risk situations that put them directly in the line of fire.

That's why the team trains several hours every month in different environments, and with different scenarios.

"We tailor our trainings towards things that we will actually see. right after the Aurora Colorado movie theater shooting, we were in our local theaters doing live, full scale exercises with our officers. That's something that frankly we hadn't really thought of as a threat, and then all of a sudden it certainly was, and it's a very different type of environment to train in, so we do it," says Sgt. Fahrenkrog.

"Let's start talking about this from the minute we walked in the house," one of the TRT's commanders asks his officers after a training exercise. "It's different! Not bad though, I'll tell you what for it being a split level like that where it offered 2 entry points."

"There's been a shift in how police work is, how police think, how we react to calls. Let's face it, after Columbine, the world changed, particularly for police. The public won't accept, nor should they, that the police are going to stand by while there's a high-risk situation going on. When police show up, the public expects that they're going to do something," says Sgt. Fahrenkrog.

That's why the department uses their highly trained tactical officers to train everyone on patrol.

"Our line officers are doing more what we had considered in the past "high-risk" things. This year, we've trained our officers, the entire department, in the use of ballistic shields," Sgt. Fahrenkrog says.

"All we're going to do is we set up a serpentine course, left and right targets, the first barricade shooting is going to be at this barricade here," says Sgt. Mark Pieper, running one of the department's newest officers through a weekly shooting exercise.

Firearms instructors hold weekly shoots for the department, and officers are required to attend six a year.

And every officer has to go through training, from the chief of police and higher level staff, on down to the smallest member of the force: Duke, the department's police dog.

We train 16 hours a month, so quite a bit of training," says Eau Claire Police K-9 Officer Jason Ruppert." He's from Belgium, so his commands are not in English."

"We're just going to be doing a search of the vehicle with the dog, we're looking for the dog to show us a change of behavior that's consistent with his training when he locates controlled substances," says Officer Rupert, demonstrating Duke's ability to find marijuana hidden in a van.

"So when he finds his drugs, what he thinks he's finding is his toy. So he gets to play with the toy," Officer Rupert explains. "Once he has that toy, you're not getting it back."

And even he's one of one hundred that try to make a difference here in Eau Claire.

"That's what I love. It's kind of the camaraderie, being able to actually go out and truly make a difference every day," says Sgt. Jensen.

Part two of our series "To Serve, Protect and a Whole Lot More" continues Tuesday night at ten o'clock. We'll take a look at the many different roles police officers in Eau Claire have, and the high level of training they go through to do those jobs. This week also marks National Police Week across the country

Tuesday night, a special documentary will be shown in Eau Claire, telling the harrowing stories of officers who were caught in the line of fire. It's been shown all over the country and is being brought to Eau Claire. One hundred percent of ticket sales will be donated to law enforcement memorial funds.

The film will be shown Tuesday night at Micon Cinemas.  Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door. That includes a cookout dinner, beginning at five p.m. To purchase tickets, click here.

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