Getting to know local emergency services and their positive impact on the community (Part II)
By Craig Marx, Editor
Our local law enforcement and emergency services work around the clock to help protect the citizens of Antigo and Langlade County, often times under intense pressure or unneeded scrutiny. As we honor these brave men and women in this issue, take a moment to hear from Chief of Police Eric Roller, Sheriff Mark Westen and Fire Chief Jon Petroskey on how they became active in their emergency service positions and what their roles and responsibilities mean to the community.
Sheriff Mark Westen
Q) How long have you personally been in law enforcement and what motivated you to join?
A) While attending UW-La Crosse post high school, I was able to participate in a ride-along program with the La Crosse Police Department. What most interested me in this profession immediately was the work I directly observed being done, how important it was and the sense of “teamwork” displayed by the officers I came into contact with. After completing 24 years of service in this career, I still believe, myself included, most officers/deputies simply have a calling to help people. Additionally, most law enforcement/corrections officers will tell you that no day is the same, the job is very challenging and though at times, very dangerous, there is a strong sense of accomplishment and pride at the end of most shifts.
Q) Having worked through local law enforcement in the Antigo area before becoming sheriff, what are some of the positive interactions you’ve had with the community that you believe have helped your department along the way?
A) Unfortunately, public perception of law enforcement is often reflected negatively. Truthfully, this can wear on many officers’ psyche over time. Whenever I have felt this personally, I am continuously reminded by many in our community that “we support you”. Often times it takes a significant event, even a tragedy at times, to remind people of how important our work is. When people thank us, I make certain to look them in the eyes and tell them how much it is appreciated. We don’t hear it often, but it does mean a great deal to most officers/deputies to know that people are behind you. As a smaller agency, we are very proud of what we accomplish daily to help keep our community safe. I think it is extremely important for those in public safety to be active in the community, whether it be coaching youth sports, teaching hunters safety, competing in sports leagues, etc. Getting to know law enforcement professionals on a personal level only solidifies our relationship with the community.
Q) In covering a large area such as Langlade County, what are some of the difficulties as both an officer and now head administrator in coordinating law enforcement?
A) We have seen a large increase in calls associated with narcotics and mental health issues, in our area.This has proven to be not only a challenge to law enforcement and corrections officers, but also a large burden to other sectors of local government.The number of Drug Endangered Children cases has continually risen straining budgets for foster care and other much needed child advocacy agencies. Fortunately, we have formed important relationships with law enforcement partners, fire and EMS responders, social service entities as well as other community resources which all work collaboratively to serve those whom we are asked to assist.
Q) As I asked Chief Roller also, are there any services or opportunities for citizens to either help law enforcement or become better educated on their assistance to the community?
A) We are extremely proud of our relationship with the community. A large portion of our criminal cases get solved due to public interaction with our agency and willingness to share information. Members of our office are often times asked to speak at different public events sharing their expertise in self defense, narcotic trends, internet safety, elder abuse etc. Through these types of community interactions, we have collaborated with citizens and educated many of them on how to avoid being victims.
Q) How has being in law enforcement changed or aided in the way you view the Antigo area?
A) I am continuously amazed at how our community rallies to show support for public safety professionals. Whether in law enforcement, EMS, fire services or most importantly military service, Langlade County has always been a very positive place to call home. Though I understand that there are those who certainly may have a difference of opinion than others on certain issues, relatively speaking we should all be very proud of our record when it comes to public safety. We certainly have some very difficult challenges facing our community, but we are not alone.
Twenty four years ago, I never dreamed that Langlade County would be grouped with other areas when talking about opioid or methamphetamine epidemics. Hopefully, we can work with all of our partners and build stronger relationships with those whom we serve to overcome these challenges.