(Juneau) Local authorities say they are concerned over the recent uptick in traffic pursuits in Dodge County. Through ten-and-a-half months this year law enforcement has engaged in 23 vehicle chases including three in one day earlier this month. That is nearly the amount the county saw in 2018 and 2019 combined. Sheriff Dale Schmidt says the statistics are a direct reflection of the lack of respect for authority. He says, in his opinion, mayors in certain cities are pushing an agenda that allows individuals to break the law without holding them accountable.
Schmidt says Dodge County has policies that will hold drivers accountable that choose to flee from law enforcement. He says officers use good judgement in deciding when to pursue and when not to pursue as well as factors including the seriousness of the offense, risk to the public, traffic and weather conditions. During Wednesday’s appearance on WBEV’s Community Comment, Schmidt said the county will not implement a no pursuit policy and pointed to issues with Milwaukee’s policy, which was expanded in 2017 to include reckless drivers and drug dealers. He says when individuals from that city would visit neighboring counties and get arrested by local authorities for fleeing, they would say something like “I didn’t think you would chase me so I took off” or “they don’t chase us in Milwaukee County.” Schmidt says those policies have ramifications on other areas and do not discourage people from fleeing.
Fleeing is a felony charge that can stay on a person’s record forever which Schmidt notes can impact where a person can get employed or being able to own a gun. He says if people who run would just pull over and comply with law enforcement they might only end up with a traffic citation or a misdemeanor offense.
A number of area police chiefs including those in Beaver Dam, Lomira, Horicon, Waupun and Juneau echoed similar concerns and called the current trend disturbing. They say informing the public and those who may choose to flee from law enforcement is a good initial step to address this growing concern.
Read Sheriff Dale Schmidt’s press release on the rise of traffic pursuits in Dodge County:
Dodge County law enforcement hold drivers who flee accountable.
Recently there has been a large uptick in the number of pursuits of vehicles in Dodge County. There are many hypotheses on the reason why, but the police chiefs and I are very concerned as the increase puts innocent bystanders and law enforcement officials in harm’s way.
A traffic pursuit typically is initiated after the driver of a vehicle fails to yield to a law enforcement officer as they legally attempt to stop the vehicle. The legal reason for the stop could be anything from a traffic violation to a criminal offense. Wisconsin Statute 346.04 (3) indicates:
No operator of a vehicle, after having received a visual or audible signal from a traffic officer, federal law enforcement officer, or marked or unmarked police vehicle that the operator knows or reasonably should know is being operated by a law enforcement officer, shall knowingly flee or attempt to elude any officer by willful or wanton disregard of such signal so as to interfere with or endanger the operation of the police vehicle, the traffic officer, the law enforcement officer, other vehicles, or pedestrians, nor shall the operator increase the speed of the operator’s vehicle or extinguish the lights of the vehicle in an attempt to elude or flee.
A vehicle operator convicted of knowingly fleeing or attempting to elude a law enforcement officer under this statute is guilty of a Class I Felony. This is in addition to any other violations or crimes that occurred before or during the pursuit.
I want to be clear that Dodge County law enforcement has policies that will hold drivers accountable that choose to flee from law enforcement. Of course, we will use good judgment in deciding when to pursue and when not to pursue. Those decisions consider many factors. Some of those factors include the seriousness of the offense, the risk to the public if we don’t pursue, the risk to the public if we do pursue, traffic/weather conditions, time of day, squad car condition and many other considerations.
If a law enforcement officer does choose or is directed by a supervisor, to discontinue a pursuit, this does not mean that the case is closed. Law enforcement officers will vigorously follow up on these incidents to hold the suspect or vehicle owner accountable. This may involve officers coming to the homes of the registered owner or known driver, stopping at their workplace or following other leads to identify and hold the driver accountable.
The registered owner is also liable under state statute and can also be held accountable for the pursuit if the driver is not located. Chapter 346.175 states that the owner of a vehicle involved in this violation of fleeing a traffic officer shall be presumed liable for the violation. Finally, if contact is attempted with the registered owner and they decide they are going to avoid the investigating officer, the law allows that service of the citation may be made at the address with another person
or it may be delivered via the postal service. Regardless, there will be accountability for every pursuit at some point if the owner or the driver is identified. The vast majority of pursuits result in someone being arrested immediately or shortly after.
In the last three years Dodge County law enforcement agencies have had the following number of pursuits each year:
2018 – 16 pursuits
2019 – 8 pursuits
2020 (10 ½ months) – 23 pursuits
I have met with numerous police chiefs in Dodge County and we all agree that this is a disturbing trend. We believe that informing the public and those who may choose to flee from law enforcement officers in Dodge County is a good initial step to address this growing concern. We need all drivers to not put their lives and the lives of others at risk by fleeing. Additionally, taking responsibility for one’s actions goes a long way with the judge, but fleeing shows a blatant disregard for public safety and authority.
Finally, if you find yourself in the vicinity of a pursuit, we ask that you quickly and safely pull over to the right side of the street or highway, stop and remain seatbelted in your vehicle. Please stay stopped until the vehicles have passed. Also, before pulling back out on the street or highway, take a moment to check all around you to make sure another emergency vehicle is not approaching. It is our goal to apprehend these individuals quickly and safely and the public’s cooperation and constant awareness around you while traveling is key in ensuring your safety.
Please, for the safety of everyone and their families on our highways, if a law enforcement officer activates their emergency lights to conduct a traffic stop, simply pull over to the right and stop.
The following police chiefs have joined me with their full support of this press release:
Chief Daniel Link – Hustisford Police Department
Chief James Ketchem – Mayville Police Department
Chief John Kreuziger – Beaver Dam Police Department
Chief William Linzenmeyer – Neosho-Rubicon-Ashippun Police Department
Chief Anthony Liebenow – Iron Ridge Police Department
Chief Bryan Frank – Lomira Police Department
Chief Joseph Adamson – Horicon Police Department
Chief Scott Louden – Waupun Police Department
Chief David Beal – Juneau Police Department
Marshal Bradley Seymour – Brownsville Police Department
Sheriff Dale Schmidt