City police chief retires after 18 years of service

Genetics play a large role in how someone turns out as they grow older. Certain things from athletic ability to looks can pass on to offspring through genes.

For Police Chief Jim Coan of the Whitewater Police Department, wanting to be part of a law enforcement agency has always run in the family.

Coan

Coan’s father was a police officer and his brother is currently a police officer.

As a result, Coan said he  wanted to become part of a police department as well.

Coan attended Michigan State University, where he earned a master’s degree in criminal justice.

Before becoming the chief of police in Whitewater, Coan worked his way up through the Appleton Police Department. He started as an officer, moved to sergeant, lieutenant and eventually became captain.

Coan left Appleton and decided to become police chief in Whitewater in 1992.

“I absolutely was intrigued over the fact that this was a college town,” Coan said. “Both from my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I’ve always liked the college atmosphere, and when this job became available I just thought it would be pretty neat policing a college town.”

The chief’s decision to retire March 19 has to do with reaching the maximum number of 30 years of service to be able to retire and to move to Minnesota to be closer to family. Coan will continue doing what he loves, becoming the police chief of the Centennial Lakes Police Department on March 21.

“It’s really kind of the best of all worlds,” Coan said. “Retiring from Wisconsin and then moving to Minnesota and still being a police chief.”

City Manager Kevin Brunner said Coan has upgraded the standards in the department.

“We’ve got a very talented and dedicated group of people in the department,” Brunner said. “He’s led them admirably for the last 18 years.”

Coan said Homecoming and St. Patrick’s Day were some of the most stressful days for the police department during his service. He expects tomorrow’s St. Patrick’s Day to be no different.

“Those have always been very busy days for us,” Coan said. “They have been challenging times in terms of just the number of people we have in town [and] a lot of people at the bars.”

Although Coan said the department worked within a very tight budget during his time as chief, he said one of the biggest accomplishments for the department was becoming one of 16 accredited law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin.

“I believe that we have kept Whitewater a very safe community,” Coan said.

Coan was able to maintain a high level of services while keeping the cost down, Brunner said.

“He’s a very, very conscientious individual,” Brunner said. “I really feel that he’s a consummate professional. He has done some very good things for our community.”

Moving closer to family has been on Coan’s mind for some time now. He once left his post at the Whitewater Police Department to become police chief in Hudson, Wis., only to return to Whitewater a short time later. He also resigned another time thinking he would take a different job in Minnesota only to be accepted back one more time after never taking the new job.

Coan also was one of four finalists for the director of public safety position in Mankato, Minn., in February 2010, but did not receive the job.

The last time Coan decided to return as police chief of Whitewater in 2006, a clause was added into his contract by the common council saying he owes $10,000 if he were to leave for another job in the next five years.            

He was also supposed to give the city 90 days notice of his resignation but only gave 14, Brunner said.

Brunner said both are considered “points of contention” and were discussed at last night’s common council meeting.

From raising his family and son in Whitewater to becoming friends with many people, Coan said the city has meant a lot to him during his time here.

“If it weren’t for the fact that we have family elsewhere, I’d stay here probably until the day I die,” Coan said. “This is a great community. It’s a real neat place to live with the university.”

Coan said the people in Whitewater should be proud of the police department because of the quality of the organization and caliber of the personnel on staff is “second to none.”

Being the chief of police has been an honor and privilege, Coan said.

“[Whitewater’s] a great community comprised of great people,” Coan said. “It has been a great experience here.”

The police commission will decide this week who will take over as interim chief. Lt. Lisa Otterbacher will assume Coan’s duties until an interim chief is named.

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