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Monday, 12 October 2015 09:45

While awaiting final report on police, a change in culture is underway

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BELOIT -- Although much has been made of the gun violence that peaked in Beloit during the summer of 2014, a quite transformation in culture has been taking place during the past 120 days, according to interim Police Chief Dave Zobelski.

Zibolski made no secret during a wide-ranging press conference Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, that he would like the job full time, but that is out of his hands until issues surrounding the chief and deputy chief are resolved.

Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther placed Police Chief Norm Jacobs and Deputy Chief Tom Dunkin on administrative leave June 16, 2015, after reading a draft report that found a series of issues related to management and leadership within the department. That draft report has not been released.

(More: City manager to see firing of chief, deputy chief)

During subsequent the internal investigation, Zibolski was hired as interim chief.

He had been looking to make a career move to police chief after serving as the deputy administrator for the Division of Law Enforcement Services with the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Before that, he worked for the Milwaukee Police Department for 27 years.

Zibolski deferred questions on the consultant's report to Curtis, and instead focused on what he sees as major progress in the past four months.

He said detectives still are actively working on the unsolved cases from a year ago.

"If you look at 2014, there probably were five or six people involved in many of those incidents -- either suspect, victim or witness -- so it turns out that a few individuals were doing a lot of bad things," Zibolsi said.

That renewed focus on identifying and apprehending suspects, along with the partnering with the Rock County Sheriff's office, all have contributed to a significant drop in gun-related deaths over the past summer, Zibolski said.

One of the department's major initiatives involves closer partnerships in the community.

The department has abandoned programs, such as the one that targeted certain individuals for minor traffic infractions as a way to search for illegal weapons, and instead has focused more on community relationship building.

The department has hosted several community symposiums, with the next one being Oct. 20 at Merrill Elementary School. The symposiums gives community leaders and residents a chance to interact and share their ideas with the department, Zibolski said.

They also have had success with the previously announced Parolee roll Call Program, which brings those who recently have been paroled into the shift briefings where they are able to meet officers and get to know them one-to-one.

All of those programs are connected to an increased social media presence. The department posts an update on what officers were working on the day before. But rather than writing in traditional police news-release style, the posts are conversational and often quite personal.

Monday's post went into detail about how difficult it can be for officers on the scene of someone who has just passed away. In the post, they wrote about a husband and wife who came to Beloit to try out a new restaurant. They had a wonderful dinner, but overnight, the wife passed away. Officers were there to both console the husband and help him manage a difficult situation.

Within hours, the post had more than 50 comments supporting the officers' efforts

In addition to building a bond with social media readers, police can get information out to the public, and most importantly, according to Zibolski, refute incorrect information that can spread rapidly online.

Zibolski says he also has instituted significant changes in the leadership structure at the department. Each shift now has a shift commander responsible for overall decision making, arrest review and media contact. In the past, officers often had to work their way up a chain off command to get get critical decisions.

For the first time, the department has hired a crime analyst to sift through data to help officers with their investigations. It's part of what Zibolski calls a transition to modern policing.

Less publicized than the shootings but more prevelant, Zobelski says he's made major changes in the way sexual assault cases are investigated.

Shift commanders now are assigning follow up on cases handed by patrol officers with an increased emphasis on identifying and arresting suspects.

All felony adult sexual assault cases now are being investigated by a detective rather than a beat officer, Zibolski said.

"Those victims now are getting the best of what we have to officer in terms of investigations," he said.

Zibolski said he considered the previous approach to sexual assault investigations to be unacceptable in terms of taking care of our victims and preventing future victimization.

"So we made the change," he said.

Zibolski says he's trying to create an environment where officers can do the job that's expected of them.

"I think the officers have been receptive to that."

Zibolski complete report on the first 120 days is online on the department's Facebook page HERE.

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