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Guest column: Wausau Police chief seeks community unity

in Opinion

By Wausau Police Chief Benjamin Bliven

It’s been a tough couple of weeks in our country.

Wausau Police Chief Benjamin Bliven

A person opened fire at a synagogue in Pittsburgh over the weekend killing 11 people and wounding more. A man in Kentucky killed two African Americans in a grocery store. A person sent suspicious packages to many well-known political figures and businesses that sent our national law enforcement on a frantic search for the suspect.

No doubt, there have been many more hate-filled attacks that have occurred but haven’t reached the level of national news. It seems we barely blink at these headlines anymore. A quick head shake and we’re on to the next story. These atrocities are not OK. We can… we must… do better.

There seems to be so much that divides us these days. And those divides often seem to turn to hatred. It seems like a very difficult task to bridge those divides that turn to hatred, but make no mistake…. our mission is to build partnerships within our community to enhance the quality of life.

With that said, I feel it’s important to make sure our community knows the work that is being done by the police department to build those bridges. Moreover, it’s imperative our community knows how we feel about the value of diversity. It’s human nature to identify the differences that exist between people, but perhaps we could start by finding similarities. We are committed to serving this community; serving everyone that lives and visits here in a way that is compassionate, kind, and responsive to individual needs.

Here are a few things your police department does to build relationships and support everyone in our community. We hire police officers based on their foundation of character. We hire people to be police officers because they are good people first, then we will train them to be police officers. This is the essential component to trust-filled policing…. Good people.

But good people can stray from their good character. So we make sure to focus on our core values and celebrate those actions that uphold those important values. Next year we will be bringing training on Unconscious Bias to our police officers. We are all a result of our collective life experiences as individuals. These experiences shape how we view the world. Unconscious Bias training helps us understand how our life experiences impact our perceptions.

Beyond this, we are purposeful about our outreach into the community.

In the last few weeks, we have attended a meeting at People for the Power of Love. We have reached out to the good people at Mt. Sinai to express our concern in the wake of the shooting in Pittsburgh and offer assistance to help them feel and be safe in our community. We are working on the development of a Citizen’s Academy geared toward individuals from our minority communities in Wausau (in conjunction with the Marathon County Sheriffs Office). We are also working on the development of an outing at the police department for the Central Wisconsin Hmong Professionals group.

Martin Luther King Jr in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail said: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Here we are more than 50 years later and we could say the same thing. I challenge myself and I challenge each and every good person in our community… in our nation… to speak loudly against the hate-filled atrocities our country has faced in recent weeks (and years). And speak kindly to others in our community who you might not know.

If you’re feeling unwelcome or ashamed of who you are because of the treatment you’ve experienced in our community, please know that I’m glad you’re here. Give our community another chance, this is great place to live; filled with kind and compassionate people. For the good people in our community, don’t make a liar out of me! Be vocal in your support of everyone that lives here; today, tomorrow, and every day! If we can help you, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We are here to serve.

I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from Dr. King: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

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