Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Remembering Memorial Day

by Dave Bretl - Walworth County Administrator

June 09, 2011

The last weekend in May is traditionally regarded as the start of the summer season. Unfortunately, in our haste to make the most of the few short months of warm weather, the more serious side of the month is often overlooked. Yard work and vacations all too often take priority over Memorial Day observances. A few dedicated groups of veterans, however, still take the time to remember our war dead. I had the honor of speaking at one such ceremony in Whitewater this year.

It isn’t unusual for me to give speeches. My speaking circuit, however, is generally limited to service clubs around the county. The topics of those speeches usually involve some aspect of county government. As any Rotarian or Kiwanian, who has patiently sat through one of my lunchtime presentations, can attest, I can talk at great length about county issues. Preparing to speak at a ceremony as solemn as Memorial Day, however, was far more of a challenge for me.

Fortunately, while researching the topic I ran across a Memorial Day speech delivered by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Before he became a Supreme Court Justice, Holmes was a Civil War veteran. Wounded several times, Holmes fought in battles including the Wilderness and Antietam. In 1884, with the Civil War fading in the nation’s memory, he was asked by a young man why the holiday should still be recognized. Holmes’ answer was the best explanation of Memorial Day that I have ever read. Since I couldn’t have put it nearly as well, I borrowed heavily from his address. If you weren’t able to attend Memorial Day observances in your community, I would encourage you to look up Holmes’ speech on the Internet. It might just change the way you think about the last Monday in May.

Walworth County observed a memorial day of a different kind recently, as law enforcement agencies took part in National Police Week ceremonies. Established in 1962, Police Week pays tribute to those law enforcement officers who have fallen in the line of duty and recognizes the contribution of those men and women who serve their communities in law enforcement. In Walworth County, Police Week activities culminated in the annual sheriff’s award ceremony on May 20. That ceremony recognized outstanding contributions by employees of the sheriff’s office as well as members of the public who assisted law enforcement throughout the year. The event, which used to easily fit in the lobby of the sheriff’s office, has gained in popularity over the years. This year’s ceremony filled a large auditorium at the Health and Human Services building despite the fact that the event lasted well past 5 on a Friday afternoon.

A highlight of the ceremony was the posthumous recognition of Deputy Patrick Bolton. In 1966, while investigating an accident, Deputy Bolton came into contact with a power line and was electrocuted. He is believed to be the only Walworth County deputy to have died in the line of duty. The sheriff requested the County Board name the drive, immediately west of the Law Enforcement Center, in honor of Deputy Bolton. In addition to recognizing the sacrifice made by this law enforcement officer, the sign will serve as a reminder to other deputies, as they begin their shifts, of just how dangerous their work can be.

Whenever I attend the awards ceremony, I am reminded of just how diverse the mission the sheriff’s office performs is. Most people associate the office with uniformed deputies patrolling county highways. The patrol division does play an important role in responding to crime, rescue calls and promoting highway safety. In 2010, for example, deputies investigated 537 traffic crashes and issued nearly 3,500 traffic citations. Patrol, however, is just one of the many important functions performed by the office. Other critical functions include:

• Corrections — The sheriff is charged, by statute, with operating the county jail. While this may seem like a straightforward task, the jail is actually a fairly complex operation. For one thing, the inmate population is extremely diverse. Prisoners can range from an accused murderer awaiting trial to an individual who has refused to pay a forfeiture ordered in a municipal court. Keeping the prisoners safe from each other and the public is literally a 24-hour job.

• Communications — Making sure that officers are promptly dispatched is the job of the communications division. In addition to dispatching its own deputies, the sheriff’s communications division dispatches for 13 fire departments, 12 rescue squads, 13 police departments and six marine patrols. In 2010, the communications division logged 41,403 entries.

• Investigation Division — Detectives and drug unit members had a busy year. Investigations ranged from sexual assaults and burglaries to identification theft.

• Support Services — Civil process, court security and records management are just three important functions performed by this division.

Space permits me to list only a few of the important services performed by the dedicated employees of the sheriff’s office. If you would like to see the whole picture, I would encourage you to take a look at their 2010 annual report. It contains descriptions of all of the services provided by the office as well as a wealth of current statistics. It can be downloaded by following the sheriff’s office link on the county’s website,

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Walworth County Board of Supervisors.