Marshfield Police Chief Rick Gramza discusses MPD’s new-look squad cars and the importance of an approachable police force
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — From Ferguson, Mo., to Baltimore to Madison there have been numerous high profile incidents in which police have been accused of using excessive and brutal force, and tensions between the public and police have increased significantly nationwide. Marshfield Police Chief Rick Gramza has emphasized to his force the need for community policing and for the department to portray a positive image to the community.
One step in that direction has been to change the design of Marshfield’s police squad cars. A covering will make the vehicles black and white instead of all black, allowing police to be more readily recognizable and less covert. A few aldermen communicated the idea to Gramza, as they had been told by citizens that a more visible force might mean a more approachable one. So far two squad cars have undergone the makeover, and soon the entire fleet of vehicles will as well.
“One of my goals — or one of my missions or visions — was to enhance our community policing and our relationship with the community,” said Gramza, who took over as chief in 2014. “If we’re trying to help our image, which, again, nationwide has taken on a lot of scrutiny, I’d rather (have squad cars) be visible.”
Gramza said the white wraps that will be put on the vehicles are, in terms of cost, not much more expensive than the decals the department had been putting on squad cars. They will also save man hours because an external company outfits the vehicles in the white siding, whereas members of the department had to put the decals on the all black vehicles.
The white wraps will be placed on existing vehicles and will not necessitate the purchase of new vehicles.
The Marshfield Police Department also announced earlier this year that they are changing the shoulder patches on their uniforms to better reflect the city’s identity. Officers will be allowed to transition from the old patch to the new throughout 2015.
The design shows the city’s symbol of a duck swimming through cattails. Gramza said in a press release at the time of the announcement that the design, which is used by other city departments, is in step with the police department’s mission statement of being “in partnership with the community.”
Visibility in the community
Gramza said that while the Marshfield Police Department receives very few complaints about officer conduct, the happenings on a national level have caught his attention and do make him think about the image the department has. He said that it is important for the department to dedicate itself to community policing.
“We look for ways to be proactive in that sense,” Gramza said. “I think we’re doing a lot to build that relationship with the community. Our officers attend a large amount of training. We’re required to attend 24 hours of training annually, each officer is. I think we average about 100 hours per officer.”
Gramza noted that community policing could be as simple as an officer making small talk with citizens, walking through a business in order to be more visible, or parking near a house that is suspected of drug trafficking to make the department’s presence known.
“We encourage our officers to do these business walk-throughs and enjoy their job and be a smiling face and not just a face that responds to trouble,” Gramza said. “I think it’d be great if every officer after a shift of working was able to tell you somebody new they met that was self-initiated, not complaint initiated.”
The use of force
Gramza said that in modern times it is important for officers to be aware that if they are using force or involved in a public confrontation with a person, that somebody could be recording it.
“It’s always important to let our officers know there’s a high probability that if you’re going hands-on with somebody, somebody could be recording it. Be professional. Do your job. Use force if you need to use force. As soon as you no longer need to use force, you back down,” Gramza said.
The use of force, Gramza said, can be a difficult line to walk. He added that officers are allowed to escalate a situation in order to gain control of it. He said that if an officer is being threatened by somebody raising his or her fists in a fighting posture, an officer is allowed to wield a baton or pepper spray in response. If someone grabs a lead pipe, the officer is allowed to draw his or her firearm.
“The law allows us to be one step ahead of whatever force is being demonstrated towards us,” Gramza said.
He added that it is a challenge for an officer to react to a situation in a matter of seconds while trying to measure the situation, the threat level, personal safety, and the safety of every person involved in a potential confrontation.
“It’s all about controlling the situation and de-escalating it, but there’s opportunities for a situation to escalate, and with that you have to respond to it,” Gramza said.
He added that police nationwide struggle with the fact that media coverage of their activities tends to capture the explosive, controversial elements of what they do and not the positive interactions with the public in which police may be involved. In addition, he noted that in some cases where videos of police using force surface and go viral, those videos only show the physical confrontation and not the moments or incidents leading up to the officer choosing to use force.
In those cases Gramza said, “We’re missing the first three chapters of the book, and that really makes a big difference when it comes to if you miss the first half-hour of a movie, do you get the whole movie?”