Somerset Police Chief Doug Briggs retires
It was a bittersweet night in Somerset on Thursday, Dec. 18. That night was Somerset Police Chief Doug Briggs’ last village board meeting before his retirement from the department, effective Dec. 31.
As the minutes clicked by the 7 p.m. start time of the regularly scheduled village board meeting, the trustees’ chairs remained conspicuously vacant. Sounds of laughter and well wishes drifted from the chief’s office, where village staff, police officers and board members surprised Briggs with a gun safe as a farewell gift.
Briggs was sworn in as Somerset Police Chief in March 2002. According to village trustee Greg Sayers, Briggs had his work cut out for him when he took over as chief.
“Doug came on board after a pretty embarrassing chapter in Somerset police department history, and quickly restored honor and integrity,” Sayers said. “He has always led by example and his officers have always responded accordingly. Doug has been a great asset to the village and will be sorely missed.”
Briggs’ father was a Wisconsin State Trooper. After graduating from North High School in Eau Claire, Briggs entered the U.S. Army where he served as a military policeman for six years. He graduated from the U.S. Military Police Academy in 1977, followed by the Burlington County Police Academy in New Jersey in 1979. He completed his Wisconsin certification at Chippewa Valley Technical College in 1982.
Upon completing his Wisconsin certification, Briggs became a patrol officer in Menomonie in 1982. According to an article in the News from 2002, he worked in drug enforcement, was promoted to sergeant and became a lieutenant in 1999.
Briggs had a list of goals when he came to Somerset, and he feels good about the ground he and the department has gained over the years.
“I wanted to improve the department’s relationship with the village, the village board and all the other agencies in St. Croix County,” Briggs said. “I think we have accomplished that from the positive reviews we have received from the village board and from the cooperation we get from the other agencies in the county. When I take a walk around the village, it is reassuring when a resident waves and greets me. That is one of the things I’m going to miss.”
One of Briggs’ proudest moments in Somerset was helping secure federal grant money from the state’s Department of Justice when he was on the board of directors for the Youth Service Bureau.
“The funding was specifically for programs to keep youth out of the criminal justice system,” Briggs said. “We were able to place a drug and alcohol counselor in the county school districts for over three years. It was unique in that we had the federal, state, county and municipal governments cooperating with a nonprofit organization and the school districts for the benefit of their students.”
Briggs said keeping pace with changes in the community and county was a challenge, but it was done by maintaining open communication with the residents and the village board. For that attitude, trustee Dave Carufel is grateful.
“First, he is very knowledgeable about the law and is always sure that what he did was within that spirit,” Carufel said. “Second, and the thing that I think made Doug a pleasure to work with, is that he took the time to turn interactions with the public into teaching opportunities. Rather than just write a ticket he would take the time to find out if a positive interaction with people would do more good than a ticket.
“I believe that he thought it was more important to try and make a long-term friend and someone who gets along with the police department than just write a ticket and make a person feel that the police were working against them. I think he did a great job of teaching that to his officers also. I think he really wanted to work with people to help teach them the importance of living within the system and trying to change the negative appearance of police in general. I believe that this was especially true when it came to younger people. That is what I have admired about Doug the most.”
Briggs humbly accepted the praise and thanks from village board members at his last meeting.
“I’ve had your support and your interest all these years,” Briggs said. “Leaving is bittersweet thanks to your appreciation and support. This village deserves a good police department.”
Trustee Ryan Sicard said he and Briggs had their first village board meetings together, and the changes in the relationship between the police department and the village board then and now aren’t even comparable.
Sayers echoed that sentiment in an email, saying “I was a newly elected board member and was on the public safety committee, after one year due to two members not running for re-election, I found myself as the chairman of the public safety committee. I had lived in Somerset for two years, and had been on the board for one, and was all of sudden the chairman. There was a pretty steep learning curve to get up to speed, and Chief Briggs made my job very easy.
“Doug had a handle on everything, his knowledge of the town and the key players and the relationships he had with them made us able to smoothly navigate some pretty sticky situations.”
One of those sticky situations has been the sometimes controversial Summer Set Music Festival. While many village residents dislike the loud festival and the types of tourists and alleged crime the festival brings to town, village president Jeff Johnson said in a News article in September that Briggs has been an essential component of a group of representatives from the the village, police, fire departments, Regions Hospital, ambulance services and the amphitheater who meet to discuss what goes right with the large concert events, what goes wrong, what can be done better and any new issues that arise.
Trustee Bartt Palmer appreciates the extra work Briggs does in the summer during concert and tubing season, but also the work he does year round.
“We try to keep our department budgets tight so that we can minimize taxes for our residents,” Palmer said. “Chief Briggs always found a way to run the Police Department effectively and efficiently with the budget he was given.
“Somerset is very unique in the aspect that the police department more than doubles in the summer months due to the concerts and tubing, and shrinks in the quieter winter months. Chief Briggs was very skillful in managing the fluctuation of personnel within the department. He has been a great ambassador for our community and we will miss him.”
Briggs plans to work in the private sector after his retirement from public service.
“Of course I will miss the people I work with the most,” Briggs said. “They are the reason that I got into police work and stuck with it as long as I did. I am referring to the officers and staff and also the residents of Somerset. Police work is very fulfilling for me personally because I am able to work directly with the persons who need help.”