A different time: From squad cars to uniforms, RWPD sees many changes in 50 yearsWhen Forest Wipperling was first hired to the Red Wing Police Department in the 1950s, he went from ordinary citizen to patrol officer in one simple step.
By: Sarah Gorvin, The Republican Eagle
When Forest Wipperling was first hired to the Red Wing Police Department in the 1950s, he went from ordinary citizen to patrol officer in one simple step.
“To become a police officer in those years, all you had to do was sign up,” the retired Red Wing police chief said.
After accepting the part-time position from then-chief Eric Carlson, Wipperling bought himself his uniform: grey shirts, black wool pants and a trucker’s cap.
Then, with nearly no training and just a quick swearing in from the mayor, Wipperling was handed a gun and a badge.
“I was a cop. That’s all it took,” Wipperling said. “It was definitely a different time and it was definitely a different world.”
Increased training is just one example of how much things have changed in the RWPD in the last 50 years. Wipperling, along with fellow retired chiefs Ed Krause and Tim Sletten and current Chief Roger Pohlman shared stories and experiences at the Red Wing Senior Center Tuesday morning.
Police officer training and certification didn’t come until the late 1960s, Krause said. In fact, because he began his career in 1966, he just missed out on being certified.
“I was grandfathered in,” he said.
As a result, Krause’s training didn’t consist of much more than Wipperling’s did. But even after the implementation of the certification process, training remained minimal. Sletten said when he was hired in 1979, training was “barely anything compared to what it is now.”
By contrast, police officers now usually have at least a two-year degree, and many have more education than that.
“Nowadays, people expect a lot more out of an officer,” Sletten told the group. “The expectations in law enforcement have changed.”
Those expectations include knowing the community they serve and understanding its unique needs — in addition to knowing the laws and civil rights procedures, Sletten said.
@Sub heads:Calls for service
@Normal1: “When I started, we had two, three, four calls a night,” Sletten said.
Officer shifts consisted of a lot of patrolling and walking beats, but not as much action.
“Now, our people are running. They’re busy,” Sletten said.
In 2011, the Red Wing Police Department received nearly 16,000 calls for service, Pohlman said. And that number had increased by 500 calls from 2010.
“Our guys are extremely busy,” Pohlman said.
The types of calls have also changed, the chiefs said.
Investigating and responding to drug activity currently takes up about 70 to 80 percent of police officers’ time. Pohlman added that the estimate includes not only drug seizures and violations, but also thefts related to drug addicts stealing to support their habits.
“When I read through the reports every morning, (how much time drugs take up) is always a concern for me,” Pohlman said.
When Krause was chief, the primary drug the department saw was marijuana, he said. That has changed, too. Pohlman said the department recently had its first couple of seizures of heroin.
To help address the drug problem — and other crimes as well — Red Wing Police Department has slowly adopted more proactive approach.
Officers now consistently talk with juveniles about things like drug use and personal safety. The goal is to help stop crimes and problems before they even start. That, Krause said, wasn’t something that happened when he was chief.
“When I started, law enforcement was a lot of reactive,” he said. “We didn’t do a lot of proactive work.”
@Normal1: In Wipperling’s days, local police had the bare minimum for equipment. Their squad fleet consisted of two 1958 Pontiacs. The cars weren’t marked as police cars and their lights were simply two truck break lights attached to the cars’ roofs.
“We had no equipment whatsoever,” Wipperling said.
Now, the Red Wing Police Department has a fleet of 10 up-to-date squad cars. They’re all outfitted with computer systems and onboard digital cameras, Pohlman said.
Computers, Tasers and radio scanners have all made their appearances over the years, as well.
Still, all the chiefs agreed on one thing: no matter what equipment the Police Department has, the officers themselves will always be the most crucial tool.
“No matter how things have changed,” Pohlman said, “at the heart of everything is our people. Officers on the street are the most important things we need to maintain.”