Otterbacher offered permanent position as Whitewater chief

Interim Police Chief Lisa Otterbacher is expected to be approved by the Common Council to serve as Whitewater’s permanent chief of police.

The offer to Otterbacher was conditional and she had to first undergo a series of pre-employment background checks, along with a medical and psychological exam and a drug screening before she could accept the position.

A negotiation must also be met regarding her compensation and benefits.

“I am very honored,” Otterbacher said. “Whitewater is everything I want it to be in law enforcement. It’s a great community and it’s the perfect size.”

Otterbacher began working with the Whitewater Police Department in 1990 as a patrolman. In 1995, she was promoted to sergeant. She was promoted again in 2001 to the patrol lieutenant position. She began her previous position as the administrative services lieutenant in 2003.

Otterbacher said she enjoys the community activities Whitewater has to offer.

“I love the university,” Otterbacher said. “I think because it really adds a whole new dimension to cultural diversity in our community.”

On Aug. 26, Otterbacher and three other final candidates took their turns answering questions extended toward them by Whitewater Police Commission President Jan Bilgen Craggs. The questions were conceived by the commission before the forum took place.

“Community policing is something I hold near and dear to my heart,” Otterbacher said at the public forum.

Otterbacher has served the Whitewater Police Department for 21 years. She became interim police chief when Jim Coan, previous chief of police, left the department.

“I think Chief Coan was a tremendous leader for the organization,” Otterbacher said. “I’m proud to step into his shoes. This is a fantastic organization.”

Otterbacher said she doesn’t find it necessary to change any previous structures set in place. She does, however, hope to enhance a few things.

Vehicle entries and break-ins are popular in Whitewater, so Otterbacher plans to educate the public more about how to prevent these entries.

“Almost 99 percent of vehicle entries are the owners fault,” Otterbacher said. “Windows are left open or the doors are left unlocked.”

The Whitewater Police Department is also trying to partner with local taverns to help with underages and over-consumption.

The other finalists who were interviewed at the forum included Hunter Gilmore, the current police chief in Darien, Wis.; Harold Minch, lieutenant of the Sheriff’s Department in Collier Country, Fla.; and Gary Wieczorek, a senior consultant of McGrath Consulting Group, Inc. in Wonder Lake, Ill. Wieczorek had been previously employed as the joint chief of police in Yukon, Okla.

The finalists began by giving introductions about themselves and their professional endeavors. Then, the candidates were asked four questions, in which each participant got a chance to answer first.

The final candidates were asked to answer: “What challenges do you think a new police chief would face?”; “Whitewater is a multifaceted community, including public schools and a university; how would you bridge those facets?”; “Define integrity, and how have you demonstrated it in your law enforcement career?” and lastly “Can you give examples of community policing at the patrol, sergeant, and command staff levels?”

In response to the last question, Otterbacher said, “I think that law enforcement has traditionally been very reactive. We respond. We react. Crime prevention and community outreach is about being proactive and planning ahead, anticipating what is going to happen and being able to go out prepared.”
The commission made its formal recommendation to the Whitewater Common Council on Tuesday.

“The police commission is a very professional organization,” Otterbacher said. “I was pleased that they did the national search and screen because I think that the department and the community need to make sure that they weren’t just assuming that because I have been here for 21 years, that I get to take over the department.”

Bilgen Craggs said she was pleased with the way the forum turned out and with the “candid and sincere” answers the finalists gave.

“”Police in a university town take a unique sense of law enforcement efforts,” Otterbacher said. “I think our department does very well working with the university department. It’s because of that partnership that really makes it a very successful way to police a community.”