There was quite the uproar in Big Bend, Wisconsin recently when almost half of the village’s police force resigned on December 28th. The town had been discussing the possibility of disbanding its police department a few months prior, but after receiving pressure from residents, the Village Board reversed that decision. However, it seems as though that decision may have caused some unintended consequences.
In a social media post on December 28th, the Village of Big Bend Police Department announced that five officers had resigned. These officers were identified as “Sergeant Aide – 7 Years, Officer Schweitzer – 5 Years, Officer Hennlich- 10 Years, Officer Honzelka – 1.5 Years, Officer Soneberg – 3 Years.” This news was met with shock and concern from the community, as the police department serves as a source of safety and security for the village.
To make matters worse, it seems as though the Village Board may be to blame for the mass resignation. During a board meeting on December 7th, Officer Soneberg voiced his frustration with the board, stating “You are so full of it! I am tired of the harassment of this Village Board. And all the crap I’ve been dealing with throughout the years.” This outburst resulted in the resignation of Mark Andersen, who led the Fire and Police Commission, as he cited the ongoing tension with the Village Board as his reason for stepping down.
Andersen stated that there is a clear division within the village, and it seems as though the decision to disband the police department may have only worsened the situation. The community’s outrage was further fueled when the police chief, Don Gaglione, committed suicide in October. Some have even placed blame on the Village Board for his death, citing the stress and pressure caused by their decision.
It seems as though the decision to dissolve the police department was met with strong opposition from the community, with many voicing their support for the department through yard signs. However, the decision was ultimately made to save money for the village, with an estimated annual savings of $250,000. According to a WPDE article, the Village of Big Bend voted in September to have the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department take over policing duties, but the decision was met with outrage.
Now, with the recent resignations, there are concerns about the level of law enforcement in the area. While the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department has stepped in to help, it may not be enough to fill the void left by a severely understaffed police department. The Big Bend Police Agency now only has one full-time officer and five part-time officers, which could result in longer response times and a lack of resources for the village.
In response to the community’s concerns, the police agency issued a statement on social media assuring residents that they are still operational and will continue to provide all the services they had in the past. However, the once close-knit community has been divided by this controversial decision made by the Village Board. The consequences of their actions have resulted in a depleted police force and a loss of trust in the community. Only time will tell how this situation will be resolved, but tensions between the Village Board and the residents of Big Bend will need to be addressed to move forward.