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February 19, 2013 | 02:52 PMWALWORTH — A long-serving officer with the Walworth Police Department retires in August, and he said he wouldn't change a thing about his time serving the village.
"I had a good 24 years. I met a lot of great people," Steve Sigmund said. "My friends and I are going out to Sturgis (Motorcycle Rally) about two days after I retire. Ride our bikes out for a week."
After the road trip, Sigmund said he only has "loose plans" for the rest of his life.
"When we come back, we're planning a trip over to Europe," he said. "We're trying to finalize a time frame over there. I'll be 56, so I got time. I'm in no rush anymore."
Sigmund, an Air Force Veteran, returned to civilian life and worked as an air traffic controller.
"That only lasted a little bit," he said. "A friend of mine was hired by a sheriff's department. I looked into it."
For about six months at the beginning of his police career, Sigmund worked at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
"Then I was hired at Walworth," he said. "I did some part-time work for the city of Lake Geneva. Then I just stayed full-time in Walworth. It's been fun. People's excuses for whatever they get stopped for are always different."
Walworth worked for Sigmund, too.
"I liked the smaller community," he said. "You get to know the people that reside there. You still get the same benefits as far as the state retirement. After awhile, I decided I just did enough time here that I'd ride it out."
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The small community does have it's share of crime, he said.
"We've got Highway 14 that runs through," Sigmund said. "It's always in your mind that you'll stop someone who is running from something, but we don't see it a lot in Walworth. You have a mix of farm people and local business people. Lucky enough for me it's been a nice ride."
"Police work has changed over the years," Sigmund said. "There are more restraints on the police than on the suspects. They seem to be digging more into our backgrounds than into the criminal backgrounds."
Defense lawyers often try to find something wrong with the arresting officer, he said.
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"What I don't like is that something that I did, say when I was 17 I got a ticket for underage drinking or something (is disclosed)," Sigmund said. "I have to disclose that information 30 years down the road when I arrest a guy for drunk driving. What does that have to do with how I did my investigation? It should have no bearing on the case."
Sigmund said he often sees more courtesies given to suspects on trial than police officers.
"I can't ask a suspect on the stand his background," he said. "Why should they be allowed to ask ours?"
Sigmund's wife, Celeste, also a police officer, said it makes the job harder.
"They're spending more time trying to discredit us than trying to prove or disprove the case," she said. "It makes it harder on us and easier on the criminals."
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Sigmund said he has seen a drop in prosecuted criminals in the past few years.
"My chief had a saying when I first started, our primary job is to arrest people and get them off the streets," he said. "If they get a conviction, that's a bonus. But there are more plea deals, more people not being confined. We just like to see our job through all the way to the end."
He said he understands "monetary restraints," but it still makes his job tougher.
"It's frustrating," Sigmund said. "It's been over the last few years, coming down to money and budgets. The district attorney's office said they don't have monies to tie up in a lengthy trial, so they're doing plea deals. Our jails are overcrowded, so they don't have money to keep people there."
Those budget issues hurt poor people the most, he said.
"I just want to believe that when someone's arrested, they should do that time," Sigmund said. "I don't think that just because they have the money, they should be able to rent (an electronic monitoring) bracelet and be able to stay home and eat steaks all the time. The only people that get penalized then are the poor people that can't afford to buy the bracelet and get out."
While he doesn't know his exact plan for the next few years, Sigmund said he won't return to law enforcement.
"I have no inclination to get back into it," he said. "I don't know if you can still make a difference. You might (be able to) in medium and smaller towns. You have more interaction with the people in the town, but the way parents have been raising their kids, I don't know if you can make a difference anymore."
Sigmund said he often has difficulties with young parents who want to protect their kids.
"You talk to parents when you got their kid for stealing or something, and they blame us," he said. "Why are you targeting my kid? Believe me, I've got better things to do than follow your kid around. Then they tell their kids to not talk to the police."
Kids should be taught that police are not the enemy, Sigmund said.
"(Kids) think we blow things out of proportion," he said. "But then something happens to the kid, and his parents want the police to get on it right away."
Police Chief Chris Severt said Sigmund often took a lead role in department investigations.
"He's been responsible for most of the search warrants and investigations," Severt said. "We're going to have to spread that to other officers in the department."
Severt said many officers on staff are trained as Sigmund was, but because of Sigmund's senior status, he often lead.
Part-time officers will be hired over the next several months to fill Sigmund's open position, along with two other part-time positions and a temporary full-time position.
Severt said the full-time position may be filled from a new hire or a current officer on the roster.
"When he leaves, we'll have somebody to fill that spot," Severt said. "We're hiring now so they'll be trained and ready to go for the busy times. We are not short staffed. That spot will be filled."