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Brown Deer Police Chief Steven Rinzel retiring after 20 years

He improved department, but was criticized after Azana shooting

May 21, 2014

Brown Deer residents wanting to say goodbye to Police Chief Steven Rinzel can do so at a village hall event June 19 from noon to 3 p.m.

June 21 is the chief's last day.

Rinzel, 63, is retiring after nearly 20 years on the job. Rinzel said he's retiring to care for a brother who's ill and to help take care of his three grandsons, ages 2 to 6.

Police Commission President Jim Jiracek says a new chief may be hired by June 25 for the department of more than 30 employees. The job is a lifetime appointment. The village has hired Illinois-based search firm GovHR USA to help in the search. Capt. Robert Halverson will serve as interim chief until the village makes the hire.

In need of reform

Brown Deer hired Rinzel, who's from Germantown and had been serving as police chief in Tomah, in 1995 as the department was transitioning from its part in a joint police/fire operation into a stand-alone unit. Rinzel took over from Chief James Sebestyen and came in facing internal strife after several employee harassment claims and a claim of one officer threatening another.

"The department had a bad reputation," at that time, said Jiracek, who said he's been happy with Rinzel's performance.

"Chief Rinzel instituted training and policies that greatly elevated the standards in the Brown Deer Police Department. He raised the bar very far," says Village President Carl Krueger.

Rinzel says he's proud of the department earning accreditation from the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Accreditation Group, a non-profit that has established a set of best practices for law enforcement in Wisconsin. "It's difficult to do and you have to maintain a lot of rules and regulations and policies and procedures. There's not a lot (of departments) in Wisconsin that do it," Rinzel said of the accreditation. Twenty agencies are now fully accredited in the state.

Crime fairly steady

While Rinzel, who served for a year as president of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, said technology has changed a lot in Brown Deer policing and polie work in general, he said the crime in the village of just over 12,000 residents hasn't moved radically up or down."

"The calls for service have been pretty consistent here. It's a fairly busy community and a fairly busy police department. We get a lot of calls for service every year and it's been that way since I came here."

Rinzel says new development, such as the Walmart set to open this summer at 6140 W. Brown Deer Road, may raise the number of calls. The expansion of Rogers Memorial Hospital mental health facilities on West Schroeder Drive may also increase demands on police, according to GovHR USA's recruitment announcement for the job.

Standing by department

Rinzel's department came under scathing criticism from the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence (now known as End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin) and other groups after the Oct. 21, 2012, attacks at Azana Salon & Spa in Brookfield in which Radcliffe Haughton shot and killed his estranged wife Zina Haughton and two co-workers, Maelyn Lind and Cary Robuck. Four others were wounded. Haughton also killed himself.

Brown Deer police officers had been called to the Haughtons' home nearly two dozen times in 11 years but didn't make an arrest. Brown Deer did arrest Radcliffe Haughton Oct. 4, at the request of Brookfield police, after he slashed his wife's tires.

Looking back, Rinzel stands by his department's decisions on Radcliffe Haughton.

"Would the officers have done things differently? Probably not. There's only certain things that you can do in those scenes and they did the best job that they could at the time with the information that they had," Rinzel said. "We tried to deal with the best way we could and I think we did."

"There were a lot of things that were written that might not be factual," Rinzel said, declining to cite specific instances.

Additional training

In April of last year the department did additional domestic violence training, sponsored by the state Department of Justice and the Office of Justice Assistance and offered to law enforcement statewide. A request to the DOJ from Rinzel prompted the training program.

Two reviews of the matter, one from consultant Robert C. Willis, whom the department hired, and a more critical one from domestic violence experts Judith Munaker and Linda Besser, were released in May of 2013. Among other things, they recommended the department do more domestic violence training.

Less than two weeks after the shooting, a group of 12 state legislators wrote a letter slamming the department and Rinzel's explanation of its handling of the situation. The letter called for an independent evaluation of the department's practices and policies. The letter's lead writer, Rep. Terese Berceau (D-Madison), says she knows of no plans for another review or evaluation.

Miss the people

Village Manager Michael Hall said he thinks Rinzel is going to miss his interaction with the people of Brown Deer. "He has given his heart and soul to this community. He really truly loves this community and the people that are here."

"This is a great place to be and work," Rinzel said of the village.

Rinzel passed on offering advice for his successor. "Everybody that comes in has to make their own way," he said.

Retirement gathering for Chief Steven Rinzel

Where: Brown Deer Village Hall, Earl McGovern Room, 4800 W. Green Brook Drive

When: Thursday, June 19th

Time: 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Cake and refreshments will be served.

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