BELOIT - As the Beloit Police Department (BPD) continues to reorganize and streamline its efforts, the city's top cop took time Wednesday to reflect on the past year in office and look ahead toward more changes.
Chief David Zibolski met with reporters Wednesday, just over a year after being sworn into office as the city's 18th police chief. Zibolski was named interim police chief in June of 2015 and ran the department during a contentious search for a new chief. He initiated sweeping changes in the department, hiring nearly 20 individuals to bring numbers up to authorized strength, along with refocusing the department's investigative and patrol divisions.
"It's been a very fast year," Zibolski said. "It's a challenging environment, but it's very rewarding seeing the results of everyone's participation and effort."
The reorganization of the department comes amid a slight dip in violent crime for Beloit over the last two years, with 175 reported offenses in 2016 compared to 178 in 2015.
The department cleared 109 violent crimes from last year, compared to 107 in 2015, according to BPD data.
But these accomplishments haven't come without growing pains. The city recently settled a near-$160,000 overtime wage dispute with 67 officers and staff, with the department altering its shift and training schedules to better accommodate staff while new officers remain on standard probation. The department currently has 73 sworn personnel with 30 designated strictly as patrol officers. Twelve officers available for patrol are either assigned as department training officers, part of special projects within the department or in the police science program at Blackhawk Technical College.
"It's a very young department, which I think shows the need for middle management (command staff) to help build a solid culture," Zibolski said.
Zibolski has led efforts to hire 16 patrol officers, two lieutenants and two civilian personnel. Last year, the department focused on adding more detectives to the investigative bureau, with this year centering on building up the patrol division. A lieutenant of detectives was also brought on to oversee investigation management.
"I think overall, it's gone well," Zibolski said. "It has been a drain on our officers. You don't replace a body with a body. There's a lot of training that goes into getting officers up to a certain level. Change is not always easy. Change can cause a lot of stress and angst. That's part of the reformulation of the team."
The overhaul coincides with the department's push to increase community engagement, in the form of multiple listening sessions and interactions with various community groups. The department has boosted its social media engagement to gain tips from residents on crimes. The department has partnered with Beloit College and the Beloit chapter of Black Lives Matter to host community conversations, and also a citizen-officer role-playing exercise to help modify officer conduct and further citizen understanding of police tactics. More forums and training expos are expected in the fall.
"(The role-playing) brought to light some different approaches for us," Zibolski said. "It was really good feedback on both sides."
Since 2016, the department has sought upgraded training for officers, including the Integrating Communications, Assessment and Tactics (ICAT) protocols, implicit bias tutorials and in January the department hosted a three-week leadership course sponsored by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). New training modeled after the Police Executive Research Forum's guidelines will be implemented this fall, Zibolski said.
The department plans to integrate body-worn cameras for patrol officers "later this year," Zibolski said. The department made the announcement in March to fit patrol officers with cameras. The plan will come after the department implements cameras in all patrol vehicles, which is currently faced with an IT-slowdown. No specific costs for integration were available Wednesday. The program remains in the policy review stage, Zibolski said.
Command staff gave brief updates regarding various gun violence-related incidents Wednesday. Since April 10, the department has dealt with two shootings which resulted in non-fatal gunshot wounds, on Harrison Avenue outside of a residence and at the Mobil gas station on Prairie Avenue, along with reports of gunfire near Summit Park, Riverside Park and on Beloit's West Side. Investigators are looking into a new lead in the Harrison Avenue shooting April 10, with Zibolski noting no new developments had surfaced from the April 23 Prairie Avenue shooting. In regard to the April 17 Dewey Avenue incident, where a stray bullet went through a windshield of a vehicle while bystanders were inside, Zibolski voiced concern about the amount of time that had passed for the Rock County District Attorney's Office to issue a felony warrant for a 16-year-old suspect sought in the case. The boy has been reported missing by his mother, and a capias (warrant) hearing is expected this week, police said.
"He's a danger to the community and should be located and arrested," Zibolski said.