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September 11, 2012 | 06:15 PMGENOA CITY — Every Friday, Electronic Specialties Inc. goes to the dogs.
Late morning last Friday, Sandra Barnhill walked her two Dachshunds past village Police Chief Joe Balog's squad car, which was parked at the business parking lot on Elizabeth Lane.
Once Balog exited his vehicle, the dogs, Vienna and Duchess, noticed him and pulled their owner toward him.
He petted the dogs, asked Barnhill if she lived around there, and she said she works at Electronic Specialties. She said every Friday is bring your dog to work day.
But that's not why Balog was there. He plans to stop by every business in Genoa City, to drop off a letter introducing himself as the new police chief, verify his department's contact information on that business and ask business owners to participate in his new program.
"This gives me kind of a jumping-off point with them," he said.
Balog calls the new program "partners in business." Essentially, he's compiling a list of e-mail addresses so he can send out notifications of current crimes or trends which may affect Genoa City business owners. But by going door-to-door, Balog said he's also getting to know the community, which has been his home for the last nine years.
"I think it's important to build relationships with the community," he said. "(This) has kind of been an eye-opener for me."
Eye-opening because, although he said there appears to be a lot of vacant buildings in Genoa City that "could be put to good use," he has more than 90 places to visit on his list of village stakeholders.
Balog said some of the places on his list are vacant, but he has added others to it. Still, he said, he had no idea there were that many businesses in Genoa City.
And at the three businesses he stopped at Friday morning, it appeared as if Balog's claim that the economy slowly appears to be turning around might be true. People were working. In fact, Lloyd Huber, an employee at Midwest Mini/ESP, said they almost have more work than they can handle.
"It's refreshing to hear they're busy at work," Balog said.
As it turns out, Huber's about to become busier at home as well.
Huber said he found out, just moments before Balog visited the shop and introduced himself, that his wife gave birth to a baby girl, Crystal Moon, eight pounds, 10 ounces.
Balog congratulated Huber, who thanked Balog for stopping by.
Safest place in the Midwest
On the surface, it would appear someone with Balog's background and personality might die of boredom in a community like Genoa City.
A cop for more than 16 years, Balog has five years of experience in the U.S. Army Military Police and the Wisconsin National Guard. He teaches part-time at Gateway Technical College in the police recruit academy and at the Korean Martial Arts Center, Twin Lakes. He also holds a master's degree in criminal justice.
"Everybody said I was going to go crazy because I can't sit still," he said about taking the Genoa City police chief's job, which for him began July 5. "I'm like a caged squirrel. But I'm having the time of my life."
Why? Believe it or not, things happen in Genoa City.
Take his first week on the job, for example. Genoa City police executed a search warrant on a suspected drug house in the village and, with help from other law enforcement agencies, found a 16-year-old runaway from the village.
Then there was Country Thunder, which normally proves to be a busy time for village police. However, according to Balog, police were told about 800 camping spaces were added into their jurisdiction the first day of the event.
"There's been a lot of activity," he said. "(But) the dust hasn't settled yet. Now I'm working on a budget."
Which could be his first real proving grounds as a chief. Balog explained how he is attempting to balance department wants versus needs in the 2013 budget.
"I think being a property owner in the village kind of grounds me in reality," he said.
On the other hand, Balog has set a lofty goal for himself in his introduction letter to local business owners. He states he wants to make Genoa City the safest community in the Midwest.
Balog said to do that, training will be key. But not necessarily tactical training, which he said younger police officers often seek. Balog said as a former SWAT member in Beloit, he knows what that's like.
"Here, our bread and butter is handling investigations," he said. "But I want to basically have a good balance."
Training has taught Balog one valuable lesson — be observant.
He said he once attended a workshop on detecting whether a person is armed. In that workshop, they showed a video of two people engaged in an argument in a high school parking lot, and police officers intervened to diffuse the situation, which unbeknownst to the cops, was gang-related. The workshop instructor asked how many people noticed one of the civilians rubbed his stomach? How many noticed the other person tug on the hood of his sweatshirt?
Balog said they were signals to others watching the event. The person rubbing his stomach was signaling for the others to surround the police officers. The tug on the hood meant to take out the bigger cop first.
"When I first started, I never really paid attention to a lot of that stuff," Balog said.
But two signals people readily flashed Balog's way while he made his rounds on Elizabeth Lane Friday morning were hand waives and smiles.
"I've been met with overwhelming support from the community," Balog said gratefully.
Steve White, the owner of Electronic Specialties Inc., and Bill Theesfield, of Richfield Machine Inc., also thanked Balog for his visit.
His longest visit was with White. Some of the Electronic Specialties employees told Balog things he later said he may not have known about had he not introduced himself, such as how there appears to be a concern over speeding motorists and children playing in the area.
"Here, I'm getting information through these visits, stuff that people maybe wouldn't call us about," Balog said.