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BELOIT — Beloit residents heard from both internal finalists for the job of Beloit police chief during a virtual forum on Wednesday night.

Captain of Patrol Andre Sayles and Inspector and Interim Chief Thomas Stigler both gave presentations on how they would shape the department in their respective image, while also fielding questions from the public.

Stigler, who presented first, said he wanted to ensure the department remains “on the path of success it’s been on over the last five years.

“Our officers have embraced and enacted change,” Stigler said. “Without their hard work and their commitment, this department would not be in the position that it is, which is a leader in law enforcement that is well-known for its progressive principles.”

Sayels said he had dedicated his entire life to the Beloit Police Department, and wanted to continue to help further community ties among residents and officers.

“I believe Beloit is already great, but I think we need to come together to make it better,” Sayles said. “Every police action must be grounded in fundamental fairness to all.”

Sayles said if hired he wanted establish a peer-support program for officers; incorporate more mental health training for officers and add a program that would place mental health professionals with officers to better respond to police calls that involve people struggling with mental illness.

Stigler said he wanted to continue to base the department’s fundamentals around the principle of being guardians of Beloit, while continuing to emphasize officer training and providing officers with all resources necessary to do their jobs.

Both Sayles and Stigler spoke of the need to continue to push diversity hiring initiatives in the department to better reflect Beloit’s demographics.

Sayles relied heavily on his past experience helping build community relations and personal ties with residents to stand out, while Stigler highlighted his decades of leadership experience.

Community questions centered on the department’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement; the “defund the police” political action call and ways the city could turn the tide of rising gun violence.

Last summer, Sayles met personally with concerned citizens who wanted to defund the Beloit Police Department in the wake of police killings of Black men across the country. During those conversations, Sayles said he and the residents were able to find common ground, discussing ways to better prepare officers to handle high-stress, dangerous situations.

When the department was pressed last June regarding the “Eight Cant Wait” policy changes called for by police reform advocates, the department had previously instituted seven of the eight demands prior to the police protests, Stigler said. The final demand—banning the use of chokeholds—was added to department policy earlier this year although the department did not train officers to use chokeholds prior to the policy change.

Gun violence in Beloit spiked 157% in 2020 from 2019. Beloit police investigated 16 non-fatal shootings and two homicides. This year, the department has investigated one homicide and five non-fatal shootings.

Stigler said the issue of rising violent crime was not specific to Beloit, but noted the department had shifted resources to find new ways to prevent gun violence in the city. In an appeal to the public, Stigler urged community members to come forward with information rather than relying on anonymous tips, noting that the department would do all it could to protect the identities of those giving information to the police in solving the city’s violent crimes.

“It’s not rocket science,” Stigler said. “We know who the people are who are committing violent crimes and we know where those people are. It’s in very concentrated areas of the city and we are implanting strategies to interdict that.”

Sayles added, “I have made great contacts with people in Beloit…We need to continue to be out in the community and have our officers be on the same page. We need to be getting more personnel and bolstering our violent crimes interdiction team. There is strength in numbers and getting our resources to our officer.”

As previously reported by the Beloit Daily News, Sayles has been with the Beloit Police Department since 2005, and has held several positions spanning tactical operations, training instructor and as a patrol officer in the department’s non-defunct drug and gang unit. In 2013 he was promoted to sergeant and later to Lieutenant of Community Outreach. Sayles created the department’s Explorer Program that engages with youth in the community, and serves as the department’s lead recruiter in finding future Beloit officers by visiting colleges across the country.

Stigler joined the department in March of 2018 as Captain of Patrol from the Milwaukee Police Department and was promoted to Inspector of the police department in January of 2020. During his time as inspector, Stigler oversaw department training operations and served as the second-highest ranking position in the department. Stigler started his career in law enforcement in 1985 before joining the Milwaukee Police Department in 1990. He served as a patrol officer before being promoted to the ranks of Detective, Lieutenant and Captain before coming to Beloit.

The Beloit Police and Fire Commission is poised to make a final decision on the permanent chief in mid-to-late April. No date has yet been announced to name the future leader of the department.