New chief wants to tackle drug problem, embrace technology
City of Oconomowoc — For Oconomowoc Police Chief Ron Buerger, law enforcement is all in the family.
Buerger, a law enforcement officer since 1988, has an uncle who was a police lieutenant in Cudahy, where Buerger grew up. His brother was a police officer, and his cousin's son was a police officer. So, it makes sense that from a young age, Buerger knew he wanted to be a police officer.
"I thoroughly love what I do," Buerger said. "To this day, I love what I do. It's important to me that we try to make our community a safer and better place for people to live. It's a message I carry down to my officers on a daily basis.”
Buerger was promoted from captain in the Oconomowoc Police Department on Dec. 1. He took over for Police Chief David Beguhn who retired the same day.
In the 1980s after Buerger's wife graduated from college, she asked him what he was going to do for a career. She encouraged him to get into law enforcement, and he knew that was the right path.
In 1988, the couple packed up and left the Milwaukee area for Prince William County, Virginia, just south of Washington, D.C., where Buerger worked at the sheriff's department. They had no family there, but they wanted to try something new.
“At the time, we were young and had no kids," he said. "We thought, 'Let's go there.'”
After six years in Virginia and the addition of two young daughters, the family moved back to Wisconsin to be closer to both of their families. In 1994, Buerger joined the Oconomowoc Police Department, and he's been there ever since.
Buerger said he plans to continue the way the department was run under Beguhn, whom he said he misses already.
He said he wants to ensure a department full of professional and respectful officers who have the city's best interests in mind.
"You have to be fair with people," Buerger said. "One thing I've always believed is you have to treat people the way you want to be treated, and as long as you do that, you're not going to have any issues.”
Technology has changed a lot since Buerger began his law enforcement career, including among citizens who constantly have a camera on hand to film any interaction with police. Buerger said he encourages citizens to film their interactions with police.
"The openness is very important for a police department," he said. "If they want to record their conversations with us, feel free to do so. I have total confidence in our officers in what they're going to do and what they're going to say.”
Drugs also have changed quite a bit since Buerger's early policing days. In the '80s and '90s, the drug of choice for addicts was crack cocaine, and that problem was usually isolated to poor, often black, communities. Today, heroin is the drug of choice for addicts, and the drug's tentacles reach into all communities rich or poor, white or black.
In July, a 15-year-old Oconomowoc girl died from a heroin overdose. Buerger said drugs are one of the biggest problems facing Oconomowoc.
"It's affecting a lot more families, a lot more socioeconomic groups,” he said. "We haven't had as many heroin cases in recent weeks. That doesn't mean it's going away. It just means right now, there's not any bad heroin out there that people are overdosing on.”
Buerger said he hopes to do more drug investigations next year and be more aggressive in tackling the drug problem.
The department plans to add an interactive crime map to the city's website next year that shows visitors where crimes are taking place. Buerger said he hopes the new map will lead to more informed citizens who can provide information that will help solve crimes. For example, if a person sees on the map that their neighbor's car was broken into the week before and they noticed kids walking around near the car at the time of the crime, they can report that to police.
“A lot of people think we still have a small-town feel, which we do, but some of the big town problems are coming out here," Buerger said. "We still have people who leave their keys in their car overnight. That's not safe. That's not a good idea.”
Like Beguhn, Buerger said he wants to be open with the community and maintain a high level of accountability with his officers.
"The expectations of my officers isn't going to change," he said. "I expect them to be a productive, professional law enforcement agency with excellent customer service skills.”