RACINE COUNTY — Police departments across the county are preparing for an increase in crime and emergency calls with the influx of people expected from Foxconn Technology Group’s development and construction.
Although the campus is located in Mount Pleasant, officials in neighboring communities like Sturtevant and the City of Racine are looking at their departments to see where improvements are needed.
“We’re going to have to work together,” Racine Police Chief Art Howell said. “No one department is going to have all the resources to deal with the overall impact.”
Local police department officials are optimistic that the Foxconn development can lower the unemployment rate in Racine County, which could result in lower crime rates.
“We not only welcome the development, we believe it’s going to have a positive impact on the community,” Howell said. “For that to be the case, we have to mitigate risk.”
The departments plan to communicate with each other, collaborate and share resources.
The prospective increase in crime has piqued the attention of the Milwaukee office of the FBI, which has been in communication with Racine County police departments and the Sheriff’s Office to help prepare.
Howell said, without getting into sources and methods at the federal level, “there’s Homeland Security concerns,” regarding the development. Officials at the FBI declined to comment, other than to confirm there have been meetings with local police departments about the project.
One of the tools the FBI provided local police departments is an academic study to give them a sense of what might be coming to the area.
The 2013 North Dakota State University study, led by Carol Archbold, is titled “Policing the Patch: An examination of the impact of the oil boom on small town policing and crime in western North Dakota.”
“The goal of this study is to examine how the rapid population growth resulting from the oil boom has affected policing and crime in western North Dakota,” the study states.
The study used face-to-face interviews with eight law enforcement agencies in four counties in western North Dakota to gather its information from October 2012 to March 2013. More than half of the police personnel from each department was interviewed for the study, it states.
According to the study:
The study also found increases in officer stress and a decrease in morale.
Local police departments are using this study and others like it to prepare for not only what their officers might face, but how it will affect them personally.
“The Foxconn site is drastically different than the oil fields, because that was in a very, very rural area,” Sturtevant Police Chief Sean Marschke said. “Foxconn is dropped in the heart of Mount Pleasant, Sturtevant and is in close proximity to Racine, as well.”
Marschke said his department is trying to gather as much information as possible to share with other departments in preparation for the population increase.
“We may see drug trends that we normally don’t see, such as methamphetamine,” Marschke said. “But it may come with people who are coming from other parts of the country to work on the site.”
The issue of human trafficking is a major concern for police departments in the county, and already police are looking at ways to increase their attention on the matter.
Howell said the Mount Pleasant Police Department is considering adding a full-time officer to Racine’s human trafficking task force, and there is interest from other departments in doing the same.
“If we had more investigators to do that type of leg work, then we’re going to be able to impact it to a greater extent,” Howell said. “There’s more work out there than there are bodies assigned to do the work.”
Because of the way its tax incremental district is set up, Mount Pleasant will be able to hire additional officers and use the money from the TID to pay for them.
So far, the Mount Pleasant Police Department plans to hire four officers this year and some more additional officers next year. However, none of the other departments have the benefit of a TID to help pay for new officers.
Mount Pleasant Police Chief Tim Zarzecki said there is “no crystal ball,” but the department and village are trying to stay ahead of any issues that could result from the Foxconn development coming to the village.
“We aren’t going to be able to forecast everything that we’ll need in years to come,” Zarzecki said. “But we can give a good plan going forward, and we can revisit the plan every year or so and decide if anything should be changed.”
Attracting and retaining officers can be difficult. Howell said the number of applicants to his department has gone down in recent years and attributes that to high profile officer-involved deaths and the negative perception of policing that resulted from those incidents.
When it comes to officer morale and stress, Howell said the department is constructing an “officer wellness room” that is expected to be complete sometime this summer.
Compensation can also be an issue.
“At some point, what we want to do is make it clear to the City Council that our wages are going to have to be more competitive,” Howell said.
Marschke said wages are only part of the problem, and his department is evaluating the number of hours officers should be working.
“Even though there might be overtime involved, if you worked so many hours, you’re not going to be able to work overtime,” Marschke said. “We’re going to basically say, ‘You have to go home. Get some rest. Get some sleep.’”
Zarzecki said he believes his department’s wages are already competitive, but the department is evaluating different officer wellness programs and said it’s “something we should have been doing years ago.”
Howell, Marschke and Zarzecki all said they feel optimistic about Foxconn’s potential impact on the community and are ready to work together to keep the area as safe as possible.
“We’re very fortunate in Racine County and in our adjacent counties that the police departments and sheriff’s departments work very well together,” Zarzecki said.
“We not only welcome the (Foxconn) development, we believe it’s going to have a positive impact on the community. For that to be the case, we have to mitigate risk.” Art Howell, Racine Police Chief
RACINE — One day a year, it’s OK for a section of North Beach to be covered in explosives: the Fourth of July.
Two box trucks full of fireworks and equipment are needed for Racine’s 45-minute display, orchestrated by Melrose Pyrotechnics. Ed Haase has been in charge of Racine’s show for 13 years, but he has been launching fireworks professionally for about 25.
That experience, Haase said, plays into why he’s never experienced a major accident.
The first stacks were set up on Tuesday evening, but they weren’t loaded with explosives until the following afternoon, hours before the show began. The stacks, comprised of plastic launching tubes and wooden racks, were set up on a reef breaker along the Racine Yacht Club and on the south end of North Beach, hundreds of feet away from the nearest bystanders.
“They all have to be nailed together, front and back,” Haase explained, “because they’re going to rock ‘n’ roll a little bit as the shells are going off.”
The eight-man crew returned at 6 a.m. the next morning. The next several hours were spent connecting wires back to the control board from which Haase and 35-year-old Adam Novak of West Allis control the show.
“There’s an electrical current that goes from the panel as soon as we flip the switch that leads through the cables that ignites what we call an ‘e-match,’ an electronic match, that ignites the shell and sends it up in the air,” Novak said.
After everything is wired, Novak and Haase practice their cues for a couple hours to make sure every switch is flipped at the right moment.
“We never want to have any dead air,” Haase said.
Although every firework launches the same way — a switch being flipped — they have different personalities once airborne. Some are simpler, like the salutes that make a loud bang. Others are more complex, like the multi-blast Roman candles.
“Instead of one shot per tube, you get like six of them,” Casey Metz, another part-timer, said.
“The biggest thing is following the schematics so that the show goes off like it was designed to do,” Novak added.
Several members of the Melrose crew complimented how they are treated by the City of Racine, the police department and Fourth Fest. They receive some complimentary food, two Bobcat carts to transport materials and assistance in keeping the area clear of pedestrians. Anything that saves them time during the day is appreciated, because some of them don’t get home until after 3 a.m. on Thursday.
Haase, who is from South Milwaukee and works as an engineer, started working as a fireworks technician while in college, back when there were fewer precautions and technologies keeping technicians safe. Nowadays, the electrical cues and required safe distances protect employees and awestruck viewers alike.
“There’s no more hand fires, there’s no flares, none of that stuff anymore,” Haase said, “which doesn’t make it quite as fun, but it’s still pretty cool.”
RACINE — “It’s gotta be you. You gotta be smiling. You gotta be happy. And you gotta have a personality.”
That’s how you make a sale on the Fourth of July, according to street peddler Marshall Baker.
Baker hails from North Carolina, but he and many of his fellow peddlers come to Racine every year for the lucrative Fourth of July festivities.
“We do events all over the country,” Baker, 55, said. “We pick and choose, and this is one of the better ones.”
He is employed by Novelties by JR, as were many of the other peddlers roaming the streets and parks of Downtown Racine on Wednesday.
Hours before Racine’s Fourth of July parade, several wagons loaded with patriotic gear, parasols, inflatable Dora the Explorers, miniature Captain America toy guns and balloons were lined up on Michigan Boulevard. Peddlers would enter Main Street two-by-two, dividing the street in two to better advertise their wares.
It’s never certain what is going to sell well and what will be a flop.
“Maybe the umbrella hat will be a hit today, keep the sun off of you,” Baker said.
He was wearing one himself, but still managed to break a sweat while pushing his cart in the 87-degree heat.
Hope Fasick, 20, agreed.
“I’m a kid at heart,” Fasick said as she tried to get the rainbow hat to fit over her bandana while standing in the bed of a pickup truck.
Fasick also purchased a noisemaking horn. It was an early birthday gift for herself: she turns 21 on Friday.
“It’s my birthday week, so I got to live it to the fullest,” she said.
Julie Neau considered a purchase as well. The Novelties by JR peddlers were selling full-size black-and-white American flags, except for a single blue or red stripe, honoring police officers and firefighters respectively.
Neau thought the full-size flags might make a good gift for her grandkids.