Ruesga Reflects on First Year as Cross Plains Police Chief

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By: 
Kevin Murphy

CROSS PLAINS–Village of Cross Plains Police Chief Tony Ruesga Jr.’s first year on the job coincided with a sharp increase in the number of incidents his seven-person department responded to, but that hardly means that the village is a less safe place to live.

The number of service calls and traffic incidents increased from 1,676 in 2019 to 2,324 last year, however, Ruesga attributed that to the pandemic, a growing population, and assigning the school resource officer to patrol duty.

More people working from home during the pandemic no doubt contributed to the spike in complaints about noisy neighbors.

“Noise complaints almost tripped from years past and that comes from people trying to work from home and their next-door neighbor isn’t being quite a quiet as they would like,” Ruesga said.

The chances of being pulled over for speeding or failure to stop at a stop sign greatly increased last year as traffic warnings jumped from 94 in 2019 to 269 in 2020. The department gave out fewer traffic citations, preferring to remind motorists to comply with traffic regulations instead of fine them.

“When I took over the office, people told me early on about traffic in town; speeding, not stopping at stop signs (and) school zone violations. We worked with staff to make that a priority to curb that with a goal to mitigate crashes and increase safety,“ the Chief said.

Increases in other categories included accidental 911 calls, which didn’t involve an actual emergency, were up for an average of 80 per year to 120 in 2020.

With schools closed to in-person instruction, the department’s school resource officer was assigned to patrol duty and responded to the many more calls coming into the department.

Normally, the department will have one or two officers on patrol, but the re-assigned School Resource Officer gave the department another asset to deploy and more scheduling flexibility, Ruesga said.

“Those calls will still come in without the school resource officer available to us now that he’s returned full time to school,” he said about getting somewhat back to normal.

An increase in calls can also mean that the community is more engaged with their police department.

Ruesga said his policing philosophy is to have strong community relations that builds trust and familiarity, but that goal was crippled by COVID-19 which cancelled many public events last year.

Instead, he’s switched to more one-on-one contacts in order to slowly acquaint himself with the village and vice versa.

When parades police normally participate in were cancelled last year, the police and fire departments, joined by the EMS, drove by birthday parties “to spread some cheer to young and old,” Ruesga said.

Private donations coupled with assistance from the Piggly Wiggly store allowed police to deliver groceries for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals to those in need.

Some calls to the police just provide information, which, Ruesga says, “is a very good thing.”

“To be a good police department, you need good community relations and the more information you get the, the more the department can be in tune with the community.

Creating a partnership between the residents and police improves community safety and makes police efficient and successful,” he said.

The village’s population has grown nearly 23 percent since 2010 to 4,340, according to US Census projections, and “more people mean more calls,” Ruesga said.

Highlights from last year’s incidents include:

• A $50,000 fraud at a local bank that was investigated and identified a suspect from Lancaster, TX which was referred to the Dane County district attorney;

• A November drug overdose with officers administering CPR and Narcan to revive the victim;

• An August burglary spree in which a homeowner fired a gun at suspects fleeing in a stolen vehicle. Suspects were arrested and with help from police and the sheriff’s department and are awaiting trial on multiple offenses. 

No one call from last year stood out to Ruesga but those involving firearms will increase blood pressure, he admits.

“I’ve been in policing 25 years and grown accustomed to handling calls like this but anytime when a weapon is in play certainly increases awareness and get the blood pressure pumping,” Ruesga said.

Police work is inherently dangerous but Ruesga said it can be less stressful with well-trained officers, following the best practices and knowing how to deescalate confrontations.

The village board recently approved Ruesga’s request to acquire Tasers and non-lethal shotguns to give officers a tool other than a baton and pepper spray to use in disruptive situations.

“We’re always looking at ways to be able to use the least amount of force possible,” he said.

The department is currently working on acquiring the equipment and training officers, he added.

Even more recently, the board approved a new uniform patch designed by Officer Scott Kroetz, who’s been with the department for 31 years. New graphics for squad cars were chosen by the department and will first adorn a squad scheduled to arrive this spring.

Ruesga authored the first annual report in 2020 that indicated department statistics, programs and significant events. After being presented to the village board this month, it will be placed on the department’s website and Facebook page to communicate what the department is doing.

“It’s all part of being transparent and accountable…which helps garner public support,” the Chief said.

New initiatives include body cameras for officers. The Public Safety Committee heard Ruesga’s presentation last week and will revisit it again before making a recommendation to the village board. 

Ruesga expects to hold public hearings on the subject this summer.

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