The History of the La Crosse Police Department
By Retired Sgt. Daniel J. Marcou, 1990
The 1980s began with a bang. President Jimmy Carter allowed the Marial Boat Life, consisting of thousands of Cuban refugees, to enter the United States. The settlement program provided that many of them be sent to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, for placement in communities in Wisconsin. A large number of them came to La Crosse.
What was discovered upon their arrival was that many of them were hard-working individuals who wished to become American citizens and to enjoy the taste of freedom offered by this country. It was also discovered that there were a number of these Cubans who were not political criminals but, in reality, who were released from Cuban prisons and who lied their way into this country. Some were very dangerous individuals.
The La Crosse Police Department immediately saw an increase in assaults, disturbances, property crimes, and calls for service caused by these individuals. The Police Department went about doing the job it was paid to do and gradually the Cubans who had, undoubtedly, been criminals in Cuba were removed from the streets by repeated arrests for burglaries, sexual assaults, weapon charges, and many other charges. The Cubans that came to America for legitimate reasons were then also able to walk down the street without people assuming that just because they were Cuban, they were criminals.
Additionally, in 1980, the La Crosse Police Department started a dog program. Officers Nedland and Kabat were trained and became dog handlers. Officer Nedlands dog was Dillon and Officer Kabat’s dog was Josh. These officers took the dogs into their homes and voluntarily returned to the night shift so their dogs could best be utilized. These dogs were used in crowd control situation and building searches. There were incidents where they caught fleeing criminals and they proved to be a valuable asset to the Officers who had the pleasure of working with these fine animals.
Both dogs have since retired. Officer Kabat was able to find a good home for Retired Officer Josh; and Officer Nedland’s dog, Officer Dillon, was able to assimilate to duties as a house pet quite well.
In 1983, Chief Lichtie retired from the Police Department and was immediately replaced by Active Chief Willard Hermanson who did an admirable job of handling the Department until the Police and Fire Commission selected William Reynolds, a Sergeant on the Chicago Police Department, as the new Chief of Police.
Chief Reynolds immediately set about making many changes on the Department. He issued a complete set of General Orders, doing away with the existing Policy and Procedure format. He completely revamped the report system to bring it in line with the new computer the Department had purchased in 1982. He also demanded that Officers limit the amount of information gathered for reports in an attempt to cut down on Officer down time.
Chief Reynolds enlarged the Community Services Bureau and expanded their responsibilities. The very successful Crime Stoppers Program was instituted under his administration. He also implemented a power shift to have more manpower available at peak times. He did all of this in a matter of months and these drastic changes in the status-quo created a great deal of conflict. He instituted a new, complicated evaluation system and disciplinary program, and, to his credit, he recognized good police work done by Officers more often than any Chief before him.
On a Friday in 1985, before any of these many changes could be analyzed, argued, or applauded, Chief Reynolds announced that he would be resigning effective the next Monday. He reported that he would be taking a position as Lieutenant on the Chicago Police Department, the Department he hailed from and had never resigned from.
Lt. Fred Asp was then appointed Chief of Police and his philosophy of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” was just what the La Crosse Police Department needed. He set the Department on a steady course and implemented the many changes that Chief Reynolds had made. When Chief Asp was appointed, he stated, “Maybe we can make a good Department better.” In reviewing the years Fred Asp was Chief, there are very few who would argue that he was Chief of a good Police Department. There are also very few people who would argue that when he retired in 1987, it was a better Police Department.
When Chief Asp retired, several of the Department members planned a surprise party for him at Ridgeview Inn, east of La Crosse, and it was, indeed, a surprise. When he walked into the dining room, he saw a party that was attended by nearly the entire La Crosse Police Department except those that were working.
Lt. Bruce Marco, a 27-year veteran of the force who had worked his way up through the ranks, was appointed Chief of Police to replace Chief Asp. He said he had some very big shoes to fill, and, like the statue of the muscular man rolling up his sleeves that stat in his office, that is just what he did. Chief Marco rolled up his sleeves and went to work.
Two brutal homicides were the big local headlines in 1987 and 1988. In 1987, a burglar, breaking into a home on the Northside of La Crosse, went on a murderous rampage, apparently after waking one of the sleeping residents. Killed in this senseless act of violence were Debra Reget, Lila Bush and her son, Kenneth Bush. An intensive investigation was launched by the Detective Bureau and they were able to develop a suspect in this seemingly random act. The suspect was arrested in Denver, Colorado, after he had murdered two men there and stolen a car. Sergeants Joe Dunham and Mike Abraham flew to Denver and interviewed the suspect, Michael Tenneson. They were able to elicit a confession from him, clearing all five homicides.
The investigation of the homicide of a young mother, Linda Wegner, killed in her home in 1988, still continues. The suspect’s motives are unclear and he left a young baby crying in a crib after the act.