Written by Brad Karger
Marathon County is committed to keeping its residents, employees, and visitors safe from harm. That’s a big job!
So, how do we do it?
The most obvious answer is through the County’s 3 largest departments:
- The Marathon County Sheriff’s Office — These local authorities provide services such as law enforcement patrol, general investigation, 911 dispatch, inmate transportation, adult detention, and juvenile/sensitive crimes investigation. (That’s about a $20 million annual investment.)
- Marathon County Social Services — These dedicated professionals provide a range of supports to keep our children safe, such as child protective services, family foster care, juvenile justice referrals, and more. (That’s another $20 million investment.)
- The Marathon County Highway Department — These skilled crews oversee the maintenance of over 600 miles of the County Trunk Highway System and contract with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to maintain an additional 874 lane miles of State and Federal Highway System roads — providing a safe transportation system for communities, residents, and businesses throughout Marathon County. (This department has an annual budget in the area of $30 million.)
These public safety services are well known, and each is highly respected as a smart community investment in the safety of Marathon County.
Even so, our commitment to community-wide safety in Marathon County extends well beyond our traditional public safety services. County staff collaborate with community partners to enhance safety in Marathon County in a variety of additional ways — including several mental health initiatives — such as:
- The formation of a Crisis Assessment Response Team (CART) to better respond to police calls when it seems that mental illness is a strong contributing factor. Police officers who are teamed with the mental health professionals of North Central Health Care can often more effectively de-escalate and address the underlying issues of people with mental health needs.
- The Marathon County Health Department conducts the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which revealed that 13% of Marathon County students considered attempting suicide at some point during the year leading up to this local survey administered at Abbotsford, Athens, Colby, D.C. Everest, Edgar, Marathon, Mosinee, Spencer, Stratford, and Wausau School Districts.
An analysis of mass shooting statistics in the United States raises a question about our American culture:
with a great sense of grievance and injury — and access to firearms?
Better understanding what is happening with our young people — and particularly with young men — while they are still in school can help Marathon County teachers, counselors, parents, leaders, law enforcement, and others intervene before anyone (the student included) gets harmed.
- A broad community coalition (including the Marathon County Health Department and North Central Health Care) support Prevent Suicide Marathon County, which was established to enhance suicide awareness. They offer a wide range of educational opportunities focusing on intervention and on addressing the root causes of suicide, such as depression, bullying, substance abuse, and mental health issues unique to living in a rural community.
- The Marathon County Health Department paved the way for a ground-breaking consortium that makes mental health professionals available in every school in Marathon County. Different than traditional school counselors, these therapists focus on childhood trauma, helping young people process trauma better and be resilient in a way that they can be highly successful even if they’ve had adverse childhood experiences in their lives.
- Our Veterans Service Office helps Marathon County veterans get needed services for mental illness related to combat experiences, such as Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). PTS, if left unaddressed, could result in tragedy in the form of self-harm or harm to others.
If you didn’t think of the Health Department, North Central Health Care, and the Veterans Service Office as being in the public safety business, that’s because you’re thinking downstream . . .
“Upstream thinking” helps reframe these agencies as places where potential safety issues can be addressed early on so that many potentially bigger problems can be avoided downstream. This kind of prevention-based thinking can help make the difference between communities that are relatively safe — like ours — and those that are not.
But it sometimes takes adopting a new mindset.
Another area of concern when it comes to your safety is protecting your digital profile . . .
At their 08/12/2019 meeting, the Board of Directors of the City–County Information Technology (IT) Commission decided that data security was such an important problem that it proposed creating a new position focused on protecting our public records. We have all kinds of records that could negatively affect you if they were ever lost or altered, including property deeds, tax records, case files, election results, arrest records, and the list goes on . . .
In the early days of information/data digitization, we only really worried about a failure in our IT systems. But the challenge of cybersecurity has emerged and has changed the way we think about protecting our data now — not from an error or malfunction like Y2K, but from a deliberate act of cybersabotage or a ransomware attack. In this day and age, threats to your safety can come in a variety of ways.
We also have some County-level intervention-oriented initiatives, such as:
- Security screening to enter the Marathon County Courthouse — This added security measure represents a $450,000 annual expense to taxpayers, but after the 3/22/2017 mass shooting in Weston and after an empty holster was found at the Courthouse, the County Board decided that the level of threat to public and employee safety had increased enough to justify the investment in additional security at the Marathon County Courthouse. Just since the screening began in September 2017, Sheriff’s Deputies have confiscated thousands of weapons, stopping them from ever entering our Courthouse.
- Active Shooter Training — We have trained our County employees and officials on Active Shooter policies and practices so that we have a coordinated response should the unthinkable happen. These policies protect our County employees and the visitors to our County facilities.
I could write a book about all the ways that Marathon County works to keep you safe, but I think you get the idea . . .
As you can see, we have a number of systems in place to support public safety.
Even so, bad things can still happen. For example, Marathon County had our own local mass-shooting tragedy on 3/22/2017, when a case of domestic violence exploded into gun violence, taking the lives of Diane Look, Karen Barclay, Sara Quirt Sann, and Detective Jason Weiland.
And remember what has happened in our country in just the past few months:
- 5/31/2019 — 13 killed and 4 injured in Virginia Beach, VA. A man who had just resigned from his position with the Public Utilities Department shot up the office.
- 7/28/2019 — 5 killed and 2 injured in Chippewa Falls, WI. The gunman killed his family members before blasting his way into the home of a stranger he had been harassing through text messages and then killing her.
- 8/3/2019 — 22 killed and 24 injured in El Paso, TX. An alleged gunman opened fire at a Wal-Mart, where the dozens of victims were mostly Hispanic families shopping for school supplies.
- 8/4/2019 — 10 killed and 32 injured in Dayton, OH. A masked man in body armor opened fire in a popular downtown entertainment district before being shot by police.
None of these places — Virginia Beach, El Paso, Dayton, and certainly not Chippewa Falls — is fundamentally different than the communities of Marathon County. Those communities also have active local governments and law enforcement working to prevent violence. But no matter how much we all try to prevent a tragedy from happening and to intervene early when one presents itself, people can still get hurt.
And that’s where YOU come in:
If you SEE something, HEAR something, or READ something
that leads you to believe that someone has
an intention or plan to do harm to themselves or to others,
please report it to your local police.
It may turn out to be nothing, and let’s hope that’s the case. But it may be just the opportunity we need to intervene, get someone the help he or she needs, and ultimately prevent another local tragedy.
I realize that most of us don’t want to meddle in someone else’s business or cause any upset. Please realize that once your message is communicated, it will be in the hands of professionals (in law enforcement, mental health, child development, etc.) to determine the extent of the problem and to see that it is appropriately addressed to ensure the safety of that individual, as well as that of the entire community.
Remember: It CAN happen here.
Please do your part to help our local officials do their job.
Your life — and the lives of the people you care most about — may depend on it.
Marathon County Administrator
In his Administrator role, Brad Karger leads an organization with 700+ employees and an annual budget of more than $162 million. Brad has been in leadership positions with Marathon County for the past 30 years. He is known statewide for generating innovative ideas and solutions to problems, openness and transparency, and a commitment to community service that extends well beyond the normal workday. Email Brad Karger.
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- Marathon County Government Leaders to Participate in Learning about Why Race Matters
- Rural Schools in Marathon County See Expansion in Cultural Diversity
- “I’m Glad You Asked . . .” The Top-5 Questions People Ask Staff of the Marathon County VETERANS SERVICE OFFICE
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